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Federal File: Enlisting Miss America

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When Shawntel Smith was crowned Miss America on Sept. 16, the Clinton administration gained a high-profile spokeswoman for one of its signature education initiatives.

For Ms. Smith had chosen as her "platform issue"--the topic she will focus on during her yearlong reign--programs designed to ease the transition from school to employment.

In a fortuitous coincidence, federal officials had already planned to release $161 million in grants under the School-to-Work Opportunities ACT just three days after the pageant in which Ms. Smith won her title. So Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich quickly arranged for the beauty queen's help in making the announcement.

At a news conference in New York City last week, Ms. Smith said she hopes her choice of the school-to-work theme will help "enhance the image of Miss America as a woman of the '90s ... committed to serious issues," adding that she looks forward to the opportunity to "shape policy and motivate opinion leaders."

The secretaries used the opportunity to make a pitch for the economic importance of school-to-work programs--and to butter up their new ally.

"I can't imagine a better or more worthy thing for you to get involved in," Mr. Reich said. "Brother Riley and I have been talking for a year and a half about this, but I dare say, Shawntel, you may bring it more attention." jm: he's one smooth-talkin' guy.gc

He also noted that the 24-year-old Oklahoman had some experience with work, having served as "a furniture loader, a janitor, and a saleswoman" at her parents' furniture business. Ms. Smith is a graduate student in business administration at Oklahoma State University, and aspires to a career in higher-education management.

Mr. Riley lauded her for telling reporters the day after her victory that "children need to be educated," a comment he called "a simple but very profound statement."

"We look forward to working with you in the year ahead," Mr. Riley said.

--Julie A. Miller

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