Miss Oshkosh 2020
Hello Oshkosh! I am Breah Ostertag, your Miss Oshkosh 2020.
As an Oshkosh native, I have fond memories of watching the women who held the title of Miss Oshkosh as they drove past in parades and were pictured in local newspapers. My aunt used to tell me that when I got older, I should compete for the title. I found the proposition to be absolutely ridiculous and unachievable. Like many children, I viewed Miss Oshkosh as an elite celebrity. It wasn’t until many years later when my older sister began competing in local Miss America preliminary competitions that I realized an ordinary person like me could have a place in the program, and just what it meant to be Miss Oshkosh.
I was born in March of 1999, preceded by my older sister. My parents went on to have two more children; my little sister and brother. Very early in my life, I realized some of what would be lifelong passions: music, performing, and education. I was a very engaged student and spent the vast majority of my free time reading. At some point, my mother actually had to tell me I wasn’t allowed to read until my chores were done. I loved stories and took it upon myself to write them as well. It was this appreciation for stories and my inclination for music that led me to musical theater. I was seven years old when I took part in my very first musical: The Little Mermaid. I was ecstatic just to be a part of the production and didn’t think twice when I was offered the role of King Tritan. As an adult reflecting on that casting decision, I can’t help but laugh. My devotion to musical theater and performing continued for many years. I joined school choirs and often found myself in a leadership role thanks to my knowledge of music theory. From eight years old to 18, I participated in a musical nearly every year. Though my love for music and performing were strong, my vocal abilities didn’t quite match that strength. I was more than happy to work as a background character, until my senior year of high school when I was cast as the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”.
My passions for music and performing weren’t restricted to choirs and musicals. When my siblings and I were very young, we were gifted an old piano by a neighbor. My older sister and I took to the piano quickly and were able to teach ourselves simple one-handed
melodies. My parents noted our interest and signed us up for piano lessons with a teacher nearby. With my teacher’s instruction, my interest and abilities only grew more quickly. Much to my sister’s chagrin, I surpassed her skill level and would play for hours at a time. Not to worry, as my sister excelled in the area I lacked: singing. Over many years of lessons piano became much more than a hobby to me. During my early years of high school, my mental health began to decline. Without a thorough education of the illnesses I was dealing with, I lived in denial and continued to suffer through difficult bouts of depression and anxiety. During all of the time when I felt isolated and afraid to ask for help, I found solace in playing my piano. For brief amounts of time, I was able to lose myself in a piece of music and find the strength I desperately needed. Playing the piano did not cure my mental illnesses, but helped me to learn life lessons which helped me in my journey of recovery. It was my teacher and my piano which taught me the values of patience and persistence. To this day as I continue to practice and improve my skills, I find more and more that piano is my oasis in a tumultuous world.
A statistic that I had yet to learn during high school was the fact that youths who identify as LGBT+ are significantly more at risk for mental illnesses like depression, as a direct result of societal and individual oppression and discrimination. As a young person still coming to terms with my identity, I struggled to understand and accept myself. I was raised in a household in which the idea of being an LGBT+ person was never brought up, which I imagine is mostly due to the fact that we did not have any openly LGBT+ friends or family members. Unfortunately, there were some members of my family who outwardly expressed their hate and condemned the LGBT+ community. Without ever having been truly exposed to the idea of being LGBT+, I was left confused and frustrated with myself for not fitting into the heteronormative lifestyle that my family and friends were so content with. Over a long period of time and with increased mental maturity, I eventually accepted my identity as a queer woman. I first confided in my best friend, who responded with love and acceptance. As I began feeling more confident in myself, I began wearing my identity more boldly and came out to more of my friends at school. Many of my friends reacted in a nonchalant manner, which was comforting to me. Unfortunately, there were those who invalidated my identity and those who chose to distance themselves from me simply because I wasn’t straight. Even with those unfortunate instances, coming out to my friends at school was significantly easier than coming out to my family. I kept my secret from my family for years, for fear that at the very least they wouldn’t accept me. During those times of confusion and fear, I felt more isolated and depressed than ever. Eventually, I decided to come out to my family. At the recommendation of my therapist, I came out to two members of my family individually, whom I knew would stand by me, and received me lovingly. I soon came out to the rest of my family and received a confounding reaction. I had entirely expected that I could be the victim of verbal or physical aggression or kicked out of my home. Contrarily, I was left in a place of uncertainty. They simply didn’t react and continued to treat being LGBT+ as a taboo topic. My journey as an LGBT+ person didn’t stop after I came out. To this day I continue to deal with a society that often treats ignorance, hate, and discrimination as acceptable. It is because of the struggles that I have chosen to live openly and advocate for the LGBT+ community, in hopes that I can influence any small number of people not only to live lovingly but to accept each other and themselves for who they are.
Despite experiencing difficulties in high school, I continued to challenge myself academically. Determined to make the most of my time there, I signed up for every Advanced Placement and Cooperative Academic Partnership Program (CAPP) course that was available to me and could fit into my schedule. Each of these classes allowed me the opportunity to earn college credits. By the time I graduated high school I was a member of numerous honor roll organizations, had received multiple awards based on my merit and had earned 42 university credits. I entered my first year as a college student a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire studying criminal justice. I was not confident yet in what my career would be but chose the topic because I found it interesting and hoped to find my path within it. While taking a full course load of 18 credits and additional interim classes, I dove into my part-time job as a community service officer at the Eau Claire police department. I loved that the foremost aspect of my job there was to be of service to others. I graduated from UW Eau Claire with my bachelor’s degree in just two years and planned to begin my career as a police officer. Though the logic and reason of my degree and work experience pointed me in the direction of law enforcement, I found myself dreading my new work. After much reflection, I decided to trust my instincts and search for a career that not only fulfilled my ambition for service but made my soul feel content. For the first time in my life, I didn’t know what my next step would be. I moved back home to be with my family and started searching for entry-level jobs in the area. I soon began work at a local non-profit organization in which I mentored youth with behavioral issues. I took quality time to work at my new job and came to appreciate the role of a social worker in my client’s lives. I came to the realization that as a social worker, I could utilize many of my passions, such as advocating for others, mental health and wellness, and social welfare and politics. With such a multitude of specializations I could choose from within the field of social work, I decided to spend my time earning another bachelor’s degree to learn more about the topic and work in internships. I applied and was accepted to the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh as a pre-social work student, and now continue my studies there as an admitted social work student, as well as continuing my work as a youth mentor.
As I returned to Oshkosh in search of my career and purpose, I decided to also return to the things in Oshkosh which had made me happy. At 17 years old I had competed for the title of Miss Oshkosh in my very first Miss America local competition. In addition to having a wonderful time rehearsing and performing, I was overjoyed to have placed first runner-up. Since then, I had not taken part in any more local competitions. I decided that I would return to the Miss Oshkosh Scholarship Competition. As a woman of many passions, I had a difficult time narrowing down what I wanted my social impact initiative to be but eventually decided on advocating for LGBT+ youth. As I reflected on my own experience as an LGBT+ youth I remembered my feelings of isolation. I decided that I would name my social impact initiative “Part of the Pride - Supporting LGBT+ Youth” to emphasize the need for LGBT+ youth to find solidarity in families, whether they were born into those families or chose their families. I began conducting research on effective measures of supporting LGBT+ youth in schools, where they spend most of their time. I knew that I could serve my community with passion and integrity, and make a true impact. With my passions and strengths being exhibited not just in my social impact initiative but in all stages of the competition, I felt content. During my interview and on-stage question I was vulnerable and honest regarding my struggles with mental health and my ideas for a social impact initiative focused on supporting LGBT+ youth. I applied over a decade of hard work and shared my soul with the audience in playing the piano for the talent portion. I used the stage presence and confidence I had learned from years of musical theater during evening gown. And with whatever scholarships I would earn that night, I would continue my education so that I could make an impact on my community. I was overjoyed to win and to begin my responsibilities to both serve and lead the Oshkosh community.