Miss South Carolina USA reads to children in classroom

Royal Roots: Former Miss Gamecock competes for Miss USA Crown

Journalism alumna aims to help students spark a love for reading

Big things come in small packages. Just ask Meera Bhonslé. She is only 5-foot-2, but she bursts with boundless Gamecock pride, poise, determination and dedication to children.

“Everyone says, ‘You're so small.’ My whole life, that has been used against me, but I think there is a force inside of me,” Bhonslé says. “I believe that your size and your look do not determine what you can do in your life. You can do anything as long as you have the grit and the determination inside of you.”

Bhonslé may not wear the Miss South Carolina USA crown every day, but she displays all the qualities of a queen. Her sparkling smile, warm personality and compassion for others show off her graceful confidence. She finds pride in her multicultural background and makes it her mission to form a special connection with everyone she meets.

“I was reading to a class, and the kids were asking me about where my family is from. I told them that my dad is from India, and my mom is from El Salvador, and this little boy just lit up and said, ‘That's where I'm from!’ It was as if I had painted the sky. He was so excited and came up and talked to me, and we talked in Spanish a little bit. It was just awesome to have that little moment with him,” Bhonslé says. “In minority communities, kids don't always have a role model who looks like them, and I think relationships like that are super important.”

The Lexington, South Carolina, native and School of Journalism and Mass Communications graduate earned her degree in multimedia journalism in 2018. She worked as a journalist at Cola Daily before she was crowned Miss South Carolina USA in March.

Bhonslé won her first pageant at just 5 months old when her mom carried her across the stage. Competing has become another way to bond with her mother.

“My mom came to the United States when she was 14, and she didn't speak any English, so she watched a lot of television to learn the language,” she says. “One of the things that she loved to watch was beauty pageants. So as a kid, she watched Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Universe, and she always dreamed of being able to do that but never had the means to do it. So now it's something fun that we get to do together.”

Bhonslé continued competing in pageants and earned the title of Miss Wildcat at Lexington High School. In 2018, she won the coveted title of Miss Gamecock and says representing UofSC is something she will never forget.

“Being Miss Gamecock was very special. It will always be one of my favorite titles because I just love this university so much, I can't even put it into words,” she says. “It is truly an undying affection for the University of South Carolina because some of my fondest life memories are here, and this is my home.”

“I believe that your size and your look do not determine what you can do in your life. You can do anything as long as you have the grit and the determination inside of you.”

Meera Bhonslé, 2018 multimedia journalism

Bhonslé dug deeper into her passion for encouraging children to read during her senior semester project at South Carolina. She visited schools in Dillon County while researching rural and underfunded schools featured in the Corridor of Shame documentary.

“Meeting with the students at those schools made me realize that helping the children of South Carolina is what I'm most passionate about. I just think that our state can produce some amazing people who can become our leaders,” she says. “That project in senior semester made me realize that I want to do something like this for the rest of my life.”

Her title is also more than just a crown: Bhonslé visits schools to promote her platform, “Reading is leading.” She believes her success comes from her family instilling an early love of reading.

“Every summer, our dad would make us write a story and draw pictures,” she says. “That was our homework assignment every single summer day for 10 years, and that is where my little knack for journalism started.” 

Bhonslé also credits her communication skills to the university’s journalism school and her mentors. She recently visited sports media professor Kevin Hull and the students at the J-school.

“She's just such a positive person and fun to be around, and students gravitate toward that,” Hull says. “I sent her a note congratulating her on winning Miss South Carolina USA, and she immediately set up a time to come by the school and see everyone.”

Bhonslé sees her role as a journalist as a challenge to connect with her community and help rebuild respect and appreciation for local media.

“It's not a glamorous job. It's long hours. It's hard work. It's being harassed. As local journalists, we deal with the brunt of it, and we're just here reporting the facts as we see them and hear them,” she says. “I hope that I can help people learn to love and trust our local media again.”

Bhonslé will be going through countless hours of training and preparation before she competes in Miss USA on Oct. 3. She says she hopes her time on the stage empowers young girls to continue breaking every stereotype.

“I was asked during one pageant about how it felt to look so different from the typical beauty queen. I said that I am breaking some glass ceilings here, and there is some little girl watching who probably looks like me and maybe has naturally curly hair or parents from another country, or maybe English wasn't her first language. Whatever it may be, she is looking up to me and saying, ‘Well, if she can do that, I can do it too.’ ”

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about