More Than Glitter & Sparkles: CHSE Senior Keighley Kelley Continues Mental Health Advocacy as the Longest Reigning Miss LSU

May 1, 2020

Keighley Kelley stands outside of her sorority house dressed in her crown and Miss LSU-USA 2019 sash.Keighley Kelley stands outside of her second home, the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority at LSU.

As a little girl, Keighley Kelley never dreamed of entering beauty pageants. But now, the child and family studies major may become the longest reigning Miss LSU in the pageant’s nearly 20-year history. Kelley was poised to crown her successor on March 15 – the weekend when COVID-19 canceled events throughout the Capital City.

“This situation is a very hard for everyone. Lives have been impacted in different ways,” says Kelley. “To see how it has affected these girls breaks my heart.” Still, “I can't wait to hopefully crown the next Miss LSU in the fall, “ she says. “For now, they are all Miss LSU-USA 2020 to me.”

And, the pageant isn’t the only event in limbo. Like many seniors, Kelley is awaiting news of the rescheduled LSU graduation. However, ability to adapt to unscripted events with grace has led Kelley down the runway to success and helped her find passion for working with hospitalized children.

Born into a dynasty of dynamic educators, Kelley’s earliest ambition was to become a teacher. At age 13, Kelley made a last-minute decision to enter her first pageant in the place of a friend. With that decision, she was Miss Teen New Orleans and began chasing a new dream.

Despite her success in academics, the cheerleading and the pageants,  Kelley confronted some very difficult issues in high school. During a brief hospitalization in high school for anxiety and depression, “I was surprised to learn that three and four-year-olds could suffer with anxiety and depression,” Kelley recalls. “Many of them have no advocate or parent to help them fight their battle,” she says. “So much of their childhood is lost.” However, “There are many supports in the community,” she explains. “It is critical we share the resources with people who need them.”

Her own battles with anxiety and depression and the loss of a close family friend to suicide fueled to Kelley’s desire to help with others facing similar issues. So, she not only volunteered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in New Orleans but focused mental illness and suicide prevention as her pageant platform.

“LSU and Zeta both encourage you to succeed. While LSU is a large university you are able find your niche and shine,” Kelley says. “My Zeta sisters care about my dreams and passions. It is amazing to have such a strong support system that has always welcomed me as an individual." In high school, Kelley had always told her family she planned to go out-of-state university. However, when it came time to commit, the Mandeville native chose to stay close to home and enrolled in LSU. Shortly after arriving in Baton Rouge, Kelley became active in campus and Greek life.

With support from her family and sorority, Kelley competed in the Miss LSU pageant for three years, before winning the crown in March 2019. During her time at LSU, Kelley’s coursework and mentors honed her major and her pageant platform. “Dr. Brittany Wittenberg pushed me to find my confidence and embrace my authentic self through my career choice,” she explains. “She truly cares about your life beyond her class.”

Kelley is now more passionate than ever about educating the community about anxiety and depression and sharing her personal story to bring hope to those who struggle with those issues. After graduation in May, her goal is to secure a position as a child life specialist. “The LSU College of Human Sciences & Education has provided me with some of the most caring professors who have truly impacted my life,” says Kelley. “I am well prepared for life after graduation,” Kelley says, “because of the dedication and sacrifice of the faculty members in Child & Family Studies.”