When she was 7, Madison Manuel just wanted to be a princess.
She made her parents let her enter the Saratoga County Fair Pageant and was crowned Sweetheart of the Sweetheart division (6- and 7-year-olds) in her first beauty pageant stint ever.
Now 15, the Clifton Park beauty queen is no stranger to the pageant circuit. But, unlike her 7-year-old self of years past, being a princess is no longer the draw to compete.
"My platform is Connecting Cliques to stop bullying," said Manuel. "Now what attracts me to pageantry is I want to implement my platform and want it to be statewide."
Pioneering the program she created is much easier when you have something to distinguish yourself with, said Manuel.
"For some reason, when I was just doing it without crowns or sashes, people kind of listened but I didn't get too much adult attention," said Manuel. "I use my crowns and sashes like my little microphone because it seems to attract a lot more attention."
Combating bullying is something near and dear to Manuel's heart and she has no qualms about sharing the very personal story that jumpstarted it all.
"I was physically bullied last year and I realized once it happened to me that it could happen to anybody and it made me start to pay attention to what was going on in my school," said Manuel.
She became a Prejudice Reduction Leader for the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) at her school, a leadership building organization, where she collected students from all the schools in the Shenendehowa Central School District and brought them together to discuss and foster connectivity and acceptance.
"We brought them together to make them realize that the cliques going on in our schools don't need to be there. We educate them to make them realize everybody is similar to each other," said Manuel. "I feel that I really brought a lot of the people that went a big change because when other kids go in there it opens their lives and they don't have to be mean to one another."