Section 36 had another visitor! Elyssa DiRaddo is passionate about inclusivity, a music therapist, and the current Miss Collegiate Indy. I was flattered that she wanted to visit with us to discuss those topics, and a few more.
So, let's see what happens when Elyssa DiRaddo visits Section 36!
How did you celebrate winning the Miss Collegiate Indy crown?
I’ll be honest, winning Miss Collegiate Indy was really unexpected. I started competing and held my first title in 2022 and was aging out and was already preparing for the “forever” life, was lined up as a volunteer, and was helping girls prepare for their upcoming locals. About 10 days before Miss Collegiate Indy, Robin Flemming had the meeting where she changed the age to 28. All the sudden I started getting play-by-play commentary of the rest of the meeting and I had my paperwork updated and turned around in under a week, so the minute I got crowned, I had the moment of “wait… I get to do this again” and automatically started hugging and crying with my fellow titleholders, Miss Indiana Volunteers, and was mentally preparing myself to have another year. After the competition, I went out to get Mexican food with my fellow Miss Indiana local titleholders and we hung out- joked, made TikTok, etc. These women and I are already close, but being able to celebrate with them afterward after the chaos that was the past 10 days to get myself ready to compete again was the best celebration I could ask for.
Is there a specific goal you’d like to accomplish during your time as Miss Collegiate Indy?One goal? I have many, some about Miss Indiana, some about my work with disability rights, and some involving specifically being Miss Collegiate Indy. I know as a resident of Indianapolis, I have the opportunity to make connections with each university in the area. I want to have a connection set up with each university by the end of my reign with the hopes to 1. Get on campus and learn about each university and 2. Continue to promote Miss America and show what this organization is and find young women who can benefit from the scholarships and professional opportunities. I also know that at state, I want to make it a point, especially with all the Miss America changes, that I am still a role model as a plus-size woman. I still live a healthy lifestyle, can be confident, and show that I, and so can they, push through the barriers either society or they themselves have created. It took til the 3rd time someone mentioned to me competing before I gave it a chance, and here I am, on my second title, over $1,500 in scholarships, having won 2 nonfinalist awards at state, and knowing that I have already opened people’s eyes. I want to broaden that audience, especially as Fitness is coming back to competition. I want to be the role model that young girls look up to. If I know I made one person feel seen or give them the confidence to do what they are passionate about, I have done my job.
What is something Elizabeth Hallal is doing as Miss Indiana that you would want to emulate?Elizabeth has been representing our state so well as Miss Indiana, and the fact that I have the opportunity to possibly be crowned by her is absolutely surreal. Elizabeth from the moment you meet her is authentically herself, genuine, personable, and down to earth. She comes to competitions and backstage is hanging out with us and being silly, relates to the different women, and looks out for the best of all of us competitors. Her ability to connect with people so quickly while being authentically herself is something I strive to have each day of my life, not just as a titleholder. Being able to attend events, work on my social impact initiative, any time I am interacting with the Indiana community, I am being authentic and down to earth so that I can show what Miss America is, this outstanding beautiful young woman who is active in her community but still a real person who is not perfect, doesn’t always know the right words, but someone you feel seen by, can connect with, can look up to in your community.
How did you select your social impact initiative, “Inclusivity for All Abilities”?I love the work I do as a Board Certified Music Therapist and am passionate about working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and/or are neurodivergent. My job as a Music Therapist is to support them in meeting their life goals and dreams. Through the way I practice, it is important to me to discuss their goals with them regularly, and make sure what we are working on is going to best support what they want to do. Through these conversations, although all unique, I often hear the same topics over and over. We discuss making and maintaining friendships, and relationships, what types of jobs they would like to currently have/would like to have grown up, and to feel accepted and understood by society and their community. This last point then made me realize we often expect people to adapt to how society has been formed and created for neurotypical people. We often expect those with disabilities to adapt to us, underestimate their abilities and what they give to our community, and overlook their voice in conversations. By working to educate the community, we as a whole can be accepting of all around us, if they have a disability or not.
As a talented singer, what do you enjoy most about performing on stage?Honestly, it is the vulnerability singing gives you. It is something that is a part of you and you are sharing a part of yourself with the people you are singing to. The vowel placement, what you ate that day, where is the tension in your body, and that all add into this experience that you have with the audience. Singing is extremely personal and is a part of you, and I get to share that story. I have said this and it is one of those moments that only singers can fully understand and often get looked at sideways, but its the moment the song ends, especially with a high note, where the music stops and the room is silent, the room pauses, and you know your voice is finishing it’s last ring in the room and the audience is taking in that last moment, it is one of the most calming silences I have ever experienced.
You have a degree in Music Therapy. Where do you see that field taking you?I am fortunate enough to say I do that everyday of my life. I am now a practicing board-certified music therapist. The majority of my caseload is supporting people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to meet the goals that they have for their life, which is the foundation of my love for disability and neurodivergence rights and acceptance. I have now been practicing for over 3 years, worked through a pandemic with my caseload, and have seen them make strides in their goals. This I see as a forever career. I just started working as an internship supervisor, am co-chair for my company’s Diversity Alliance, have advocated yearly for music therapy licensure in the state of Indiana, and am serving on a committee for our upcoming conference. Going forward, I want to take more leadership in the profession, serving in a way to continue education on neuro-affirming care and working on advocacy for the profession. Rather that is as a Music Therapy Director, supervisor, or working outside of my office walls and with music therapy organizations, I want to spread my passion even further than my caseload.
If you could be a Disney character for a week, who would you choose? Why?As a theatre kid at heart, I have been in several Disney productions, sang several Disney songs- did Beauty and the Beast twice, as 2 different characters, Mrs. Potts and Madame de la Grande Bouche (the wardrobe), which fun fact- the wardrobe role was split to make Mrs. Potts. Of all the roles, I feel like every day I am The Wardrobe, a large personality, Opera Singer, and “ Madam with the big mouth”. But if I could be someone else, I think Hannah Montana- pop queen, normal girl, and a closet the size of my current apartment. Best of All Worlds.
If you had an extra ticket to see a baseball game between the Fort Wayne TinCaps and the South Bend Cubs, who would you take with you? Why?
There is a woman I know, whom I will keep anonymous, who went to her first baseball game recently in her 30s. We all expected her to be more into the games and such in-between, getting food, etc and would want to leave early but she got extremely into the game, did not want to leave when it was over, and will still talks about the game months later. I would take her. I know she would love the experience and would enjoy each moment. I know it would become one of her favorite days.
Is there a feature or activity at a baseball game that you’d especially like to experience?So when I was 6 I won the opportunity to be the “featured guests” at a Cubs game, play catch on the field, name on the board, the whole nine yards, which also came with a decent size scholarship for my elementary school, so at a young age I got to experience many of the cool events of a baseball game, which I am so grateful for. At this point, I want to sing the national anthem and throw the first pitch at a professional game.
Those would both be great opportunities. That featured guest experience sounds amazing as well!
As always, I want to thank Elyssa for visiting with us, and for sending along the pictures to go with the interview.
I also want to wish her luck when she competes for Miss Indiana! It would be fantastic to have another Section 36 Forever wear that crown.
I'm sure you'd like to follow along with Elyssa during her journey as Miss Collegiate Indy. You should be sure to check out her title's Instagram account as well as her personal account. In fact, check out her entire linktree for more great places to visit. They're all wonderful ways to keep track of everything she has going on.
Thanks again Elyssa, and good luck!
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