I am a fan of Lauren Williams, and you should be, too. Lauren Williams fits the adage, “It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.”
Last week, the 17-year-old high school senior was all smiles and looking splendid in her beautiful dress as she entered her school’s auditorium. She was Baton Rouge’s Miss McKinley High, and this was her coronation ceremony.
“I was hesitant at first to run (for the title). But I didn’t want to chicken out, so I gave it a try,” she said. “I didn’t want to look back later and have a regret that there was something I should have done and didn’t.”
The 3.8 grade-point average honor student beamed as she came down the aisle toward the stage to receive her crown to the adulation of the crowd that included several former Miss McKinleys. Mr. McKinley met her and helped her onto the stage.
Lauren received her crown and sat on the decorated chair that would be her royal throne. Just a few minutes later, something would happen that would make her the queen of the crowd’s heart.
“My dress was long, and I was trying to position myself better in the chair, but my foot got caught on the dress,” she explained. Seconds later, Lauren was falling backward, legs up, to the floor.
You could feel the oxygen rush out of the room. Several people, including the person speaking at the podium, rushed to her side.
Her dad, Michael Williams, stood up, but did not rush the stage. “I know my daughter. If she had been really hurt, she would have called out for me or her mom.”
Her mother was taking pictures and saw the whole thing unfold through her viewfinder. “I stopped taking pictures. … All I could think about was my daughter, but I knew if she was hurt, she would have called for me or her dad.”
Through a wireless microphone that was near, the audience could hear Lauren say, “I’m OK. Just let me get myself together.” The crowd relaxed and started to laugh.
Then Lauren, lying prone on her back, raised her arm to signal to everyone that she was fine. The audience cheered. “I just had to lay there and breathe,” she said later. Then, up she rose, as graceful as a ballerina. There were no tears, no blushing and no awkwardness. She was greeted by a standing ovation and applause.
Lauren said she was shocked by the audience’s reaction. “I was kind of embarrassed at first,” she said. “They made me feel better about everything.”
Her fall also revealed that she was wearing boat shoes instead of the customary heels.
“I am not the girlie-girl that wears heels a lot,” said Lauren, who plays sports and has been a cheerleader. Ironically, the flat shoes were supposed to keep her from falling as she walked down the aisle to the stage.
Lauren’s parents said they didn’t notice the audience when their daughter fell. “I was focusing on her so hard,” Nicole said. When they heard and saw the audience’s response, “It was pretty awesome,” she said.
After she knew her daughter was OK, Nicole joked, “I started to get concerned about the dress because it was a rental.”
Mike laughed about his daughter wearing boat shoes. “Lauren never tries to fit in. She is not a follower. She will always do things her way. Those shoes didn’t surprise me,” he said. “That’s just Lauren.”
Later that evening, Nicole said, “Someone came over to me and said they loved my daughter so much before she was Miss McKinley, but the way she handled the fall gave them 100 more reasons to love her.”
Had the fall been judged at an Olympic event, it would have gotten 5s at best. But her rise — and the grace she showed afterward — would have gotten all 10s, even from the Russian judge.
For some reason, I think Lauren Williams will do just fine. And boy, does she have one great memory to share — or not.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University.