Originally created 11/22/06

Ex-Miss Aiken proves past can be overcome



Sitting in a jail cell cuffed at the ankles and wrists almost three years ago was a life-changing experience for Lyvia Hughes.

For one night of drinking and driving when she was 19, Ms. Hughes lost almost everything, including her college scholarship.

While sitting in the cell, she said, she had a talk with God and promised she would use her experience to help others.

Ms. Hughes, now 21, has been talking with teens and children about the dangers of drinking and driving.

It hasn't been easy. After she lost her scholarship, she had to search for ways to pay her tuition. Getting her foot in the door to talk with teens wasn't easy, either.

Part of her solution to both problems came from one person - Bonnie Fulghum.

Mrs. Fulghum's extensive work in pageants helped Ms. Hughes find an outlet for her message and a way to earn scholarship money at the same time.

After meeting Mrs. Fulghum, Ms. Hughes competed in the Miss Aiken County pageant. She finished as fourth runner-up her first time.

Not discouraged, Ms. Hughes went to work to better craft her pageant message against drinking and driving.

The pageant meant more to her than winning a crown.

"I could take what I had done and share my story," Ms. Hughes said. "And Bonnie started all of that. For me, it wasn't about wearing a crown, and I've hopefully shown that even though you've made a mistake, you can still come back from it and accomplish something else."

Ms. Hughes was crowned Miss Aiken County on Sept. 10, 2005.

Since winning the crown, she has been involved in Prom Promise, a program in which students pledge not to drink and drive on prom night, and she has spoken at 13 high schools, including her alma mater, South Aiken High.

"I'm sure kids talked about what happened to me," Ms. Hughes said at South Aiken.

Ms. Hughes thinks winning the crown has helped her fulfill her mission.

"People think beauty queens tend to be less intelligent and cocky, but for me it was empowering and gave me self-confidence," she said.

Ms. Hughes handed over her title Saturday night at the Miss Aiken County pageant.

She said she will earn a business degree at the University of South Carolina Aiken next year.

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.