"Learning is earning," Miss America Shawntel Smith told a local high school audience.
During a visit Thursday to Lawrence High School, Miss America Shawntel Smith promoted her organization and a federal program that aims to help high school students find jobs.
Before a boisterous audience of about 900 students, the newly crowned Miss America told students that the pageant "is not viewed as a beauty pageant by most people because it is the largest provider of scholarships for young women in the world."
Smith, an Oklahoman, also explained school-to-work, a Clinton administration education initiative opposed by some conservatives, including her own U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
"It is a system that makes a lot of sense, a lot of common sense," she said.
She denied reports that Inhofe, who voted against the program, had asked her not to promote it.
Smith's visit was sponsored by the Lawrence SuperTarget and Hanes underwear.
The 30-minute talk at LHS was arranged after Smith expressed interested in speaking to a group of students in conjunction with her appearance at the store, said Bonnie Dunham, communications coordinator for Lawrence public schools.
Smith, who competed in four Miss Oklahoma pageants before winning Miss America, told students not to give up on their goals and dreams.
"If it's important to you, it will happen later on," she said.
School-to-work, she said, is important because it can help students make the transition from high school to skilled jobs.
The $245 million program provides curriculum changes designed to make learning more practical to the "real world," she said. It also provides business internships and hands-on learning for students.
LHS is developing the program, she said.
"We sometimes put a second-class citizen label on people who get a technical or vocational education," she said. "But that (education) is all right."
During the talk and question-and-answer session that followed, Smith attempted to hush the crowd several times by saying "excuse me" in a parental tone.
About a third of the audience raised their hands when she asked them how many had watched the Miss America pageant last month.
One student asked why the talent competition in the pageant "seems to be really lacking originality lately."
Smith said that she tried to be original in her improvisation of a song from "A Star is Born."
She also said to the student, "Maybe you should enter and do something different."