Miss Illinois 2024 a former Hinsdalean

As an adolescent approaching her teen years, Grace Rodi struggled to find an activity in which she could excel. While friends were competing in gymnastics and discovering their musical talents, Rodi said she longed for something that fit her own set of skills.

"I was very tall and uncoordinated and I couldn't sing," Rodi said of her 12-year-old self.

That's when a letter arrived in the mail inviting young women to compete in an upcoming pageant. She went to an open call, spoke with pageant title holders and decided it was worth a try.

Twelve years later, Rodi is preparing to represent Illinois in the competition for the title of Miss USA.

"Good things take time," said Rodi, who had competed for the title of Miss Illinois USA twice before finally stepping up from Miss DuPage County to Miss Illinois USA in this year's Memorial Day weekend pageant. Along with the swimsuit and evening gown portions of the competition, Rodi and the other contestants were interviewed by the judges before the field of 38 was cut to 16. As one of the final five competitors, Rodi answered two onstage questions before being named Miss Illinois USA.

The Miss USA competition, which will take place Aug. 4 in Los Angeles, will follow a similar format, Rodi said. The winner of that competition will represent the United States in the Miss Universe competition in Mexico later this year.

Rodi, who reigned as National American Miss Connecticut Junior Teen and Miss Illinois Collegiate, said perseverance and goal-setting are among the many things she has learned from pageantry. She likened her path to the Miss USA pageant to a basketball player's rise to the NBA, having worked her way to the top one step at a time.

From her first pageant until now, Rodi has used the platform to speak out about the importance of education and mentorship, especially for students of middle school age.

"For the past 12 years, that's been my focus," she said.

Rodi said she will continue to promote the importance of youth mentorship as she represents Illinois and prepares to compete for the title of Miss USA.

Outside of her responsibilities as Miss Illinois USA, Rodi works as an account manager for a business-to-business marketing firm in Chicago. She is an active volunteer with Tutoring Chicago, where she tutors eighth- and ninth-graders in the Chicago Public Schools. Rodi also gives her time to Bernie's Book Bank of Lake Bluff, which provides free books to students across the Chicago area.

The Miss USA pageant has long been a goal for Rodi. She also dreams of one day starting her own mentorship program. Rodi said many middle schoolers struggle, as she did, to find their place.

"Middle school is really when you start to question who you are," she said.

She envisions a program that includes goal-setting workshops to help middle schoolers answer that question and adults providing guidance to help the tweens and teens become who and what they want to be.

While education has provided Rodi with the tools needed to pursue her goals, she said pageantry has provided the confidence to do so. "I was really, really lucky that I had that experience," she said.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean