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There She Is ...

The night Jamie Watkins was crowned the new Miss Tennessee, she was asked to name three people she would most like to take to dinner. The 23-year-old native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., picked the actor Brad Pitt, the singer Gloria Estefan, and—drumroll, please—the nation's secretary of education, Rod Paige.

The Department of Education caught wind of her wish, and Secretary Paige asked his staff to arrange a chat.

"Secretary Paige ... was honored that Miss Tennessee wanted to meet with him," said department spokesman Dan Langan.

Ms. Watkins visited the department on Sept. 2.

Jaime Watkins

Though she could not be reached for comment last week, Ms. Watkins was quoted as telling the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the visit was "her biggest thrill so far."

"He even mentioned he'd like for me to speak with him at some appearances about music in our schools," she told the newspaper about her talk with Mr. Paige.

During the Miss Tennessee competition in June, Ms. Watkins' platform was "Keeping Music Education in Our Schools." She recently earned a bachelor's degree in music education, and she wants to be an elementary school music teacher and later a principal.

"I've always loved children, and I've always loved music, so I thought I'd put the two together," she explained recently to the Jackson Sun newspaper, published in Jackson, Tenn.

In the pageant's talent competition, she sang "If I Can Dream," an Elvis Presley song.

Ms. Watkins isn't the only celebrity, or quasi-celebrity, to rub elbows with top officials at the Education Department recently. The actor Tom Cruise stopped by department headquarters earlier this year, as did Clay Aiken, the runner-up in the most recent "American Idol" TV talent competition. And in June, Arnold Schwarzenegger, now running for governor of California, was the star attraction at an "After-School Summit" held in Washington by the department.

While Ms. Watkins has said she hopes to spend time during her year as Miss Tennessee promoting music education, she's got some more pressing business: She was on her way last week to the Miss America competition in Atlantic City, N.J.

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 23, Issue 2, Page 24

Published in Print: September 10, 2003, as Federal File

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