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Aug 4, 2021

Far More Than a Crowning Achievement:A budding leader hopes her Miss South Carolina win is just the beginning of a lifetime of impacting social change.

Tim Wood

Photography By

Special to CH2/CB2 Magazine
Julia Herrin is the crown-wearing embodiment of taking advantage of opportunity. At age 13, the shy piano-playing middle child of Lowcountry musical entrepreneurs Jeff and Jennifer Herrin decided to forge a completely foreign path by trying to become Miss Teen Hilton Head Island. “My best friend, my mom, convinced me to try. I laughed it off at first. Me in pageants? I would never win, so why even try?” said the now-19-year-old Bluffton resident.

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She didn’t win that first try, didn’t even place. But she “got bit” by the competition bug, and five tries, one second runner-up and two first runner-ups later, Herrin has hit the big time. On June 26, she was named Miss South Carolina 2021.

“It was absolutely surreal, still is. My little sister Jenna tells me every day, ‘You know you’re Miss South Carolina, right?’” Herrin said of her victory at Columbia’s Township Auditorium. She is now in her second month of a year-long full-time job, traveling the state to promote both the organization and her platform of empowerment to women of all ages.

Herrin, a piano performance and communications double major at Auburn, wowed the judges with her flawless performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata 3rd Movement. 

“I’ve learned so many instruments, but I never played for anyone—not even my parents,” she said of her piano solo. “Now, I can’t wait to get on stage and perform. The stage fright is gone. I know that’s where I feel most alive.”

She impressed the panel even more with her track record of giving (at age 15, she founded a local nonprofit to collect and distribute books to underprivileged kids and mentor struggling third graders on how to read) and her meticulous plan to execute her platform. #RealNotPerfect is a message for young people to fight back against the cesspool of negativity on social media and learn the tools to make it a positive experience that builds self-esteem and makes them catalysts for change in the community.

“I was 12 when I got my first social media account. My parents had no roadmap for coaching me there; I was online, seeing all the photos and all the hashtags and the focus on this fakeness,” Herrin said. “Being part of this organization for five years now, I have learned life skills and communication skills that have transformed me. I know now that my worth doesn’t change because of a random tweet or insult; there’s no pressure to fit a certain mold, and who I am is enough. 

“And now, I have the confidence to understand the business behind social media—the positives I can make out of having a worldwide megaphone—and I own my brand and my message. I want to show teens how to be authentic, to maximize social media for good and not be dependent on validation from online ‘friends’ to find their self-worth.”

Herrin graduated from high school as a product of the Classical Conversations homeschooling program. She had outlets locally to hone her piano skills and join groups such as the Debate and Mock Trial Club, but as the last of the Lowcountry pageants shuttered after her first year of competing, she had to travel the state to battle for any more sashes and crowns.

Miss South Carolina rules allow for anyone without a local competition to represent any area around the state for a year. So, Herrin was the 2016 Lexington and 2017 Clarendon County representative in the Miss Teen South Carolina competitions. She was state first runner-up in 2018 and 2019 representing Columbia and Georgetown before returning to Clarendon for 2020, her first year competing in the adult competition. Due to the COVID pandemic, she had to wait more than a year to try to earn the statewide title.

“My family has given me the strength and belief in myself to keep trying and doing what I love with this organization. I have been so focused on getting over that runner-up hump for the past couple years. Getting through this crazy year, I just decided to go in there, tone down my drive and intensity and just have fun and soak up the experience—be me to the fullest,” Herrin said. 

Herrin won the overall talent portion of the event en route to besting Miss Spartanburg Lindsey Burrell to become the youngest Miss South Carolina since 1999. She won $66,000 worth of scholarships in three days in Columbia and is now taking a year off from Auburn as part of her full-time job fulfilling her role as Miss South Carolina—zigzagging the state, helping to both encourage new participants statewide and to recruit sponsors, while spreading her platform messages in daily appearances around the region.

Consider her schedule from one recent week alone: Herrin led business development and recruiting sessions in Charleston, met to partner with the South Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in Columbia, headlined an event in Greenville, helped crown the first 2022 Miss Teen winner in Camden, and then finished back in Charleston at a joint appearance with reigning Miss America 2020, Camille Schrier.

She used the facetime with Schrier just as she had in talking to former Miss South Carolinas ahead of the June competition to research what it takes to earn the title. Most of her days will be spent between her home base of Bluffton and the organization’s headquarters in Columbia ahead of representing the state in the one hundredth Miss America competition in December.

Herrin is determined to get competitions restarted in Bluffton, Hilton Head and Beaufort and will meet with local officials to espouse the importance of Miss South Carolina beyond the dated pageant stereotypes of years past.

“This is a completely volunteer organization of strong, confident leaders—women who earned master’s degrees, doctoral candidates and career professionals,” said Herrin, who plans to be a lawyer after earning her Auburn bachelor’s, with dreams of becoming an entertainment lawyer, a White House press secretary or even a legal advisor to the president. “I want to use my skills and my passions for good to impact change at the highest levels. And I’m so proud and honored that being Miss South Carolina is part of that journey.”

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