Without seeing a tiara atop her brunette hair, you might not guess Robyn Kass-Gerji is the new Miss Pennsylvania Teen America.
Her art teacher told her she did not seem like the pageant type, even as he signed a form to allow her to miss classes this spring at so she can represent Pennsylvania in the Miss Teen America pageant.
The unassuming 15-year-old will compete April 11-15 at the Renaissance Center near Nashville, TN.
Not many teen queens are crowned over the phone, but that is how Robyn learned she'd been chosen.
"They called me and personally asked me to represent Pennsylvania in the nationals in Tennessee," the high school freshman said.
In states with no preliminary competitions, the national selection committee chooses delegates based on the contestant's application and photo, according to the Miss Teen America website.
Robyn said she sent in photos, a professional resume and an essay about "bullycide," a term for bullying that leads to severe depression and suicide in teens. She plans to use her role as Miss Pennsylvania Teen America to speak out about bullycide.
"Robyn has had a number of friends who were bullied and commited suicide," said her mother, Debra Kass-Gerji.
"I'm constantly bullied at school," the freshman said. She said it started in seventh grade when her health kept her out of school for a long time.
"Kids started to spread rumors," Robyn said, who lived in Cranberry before moving into the in her elementary school years.
First, the rumor mill had her pregnant. Then there were whispers that she was a lesbian, Robyn said, adding that she "has no idea" how such rumors could circulate about the same person.
Robyn said her body developed early, and girls teased her about that.
She's been called names that are not appropriate to print in a family-oriented publication, she said.
"Now I'm still bullied, but it doesn't bother me," she said.
A dairy allergy was the reason that Robyn was in and out of Children's Hospital of UPMC for 73 days, her mother said.
Doctors wondered if Robyn was bulimic or anorexic because she was throwing up all the time, her mother explained. When they could not find a cause for her ailment, they sent her to a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist quickly surmised Robyn was "a pretty amazing kid" who was tired of being sick, said Debra.
Finally, a gastroenterologist diagnosed the problem. The simplified explanation: Robyn had a hole in her stomach, through which food kept coming back up, her mother said.
The doctors had not wanted to do invasive procedures on Robyn, but Debra gave permission for the gastroenterologist to do an endoscopy. That procedure confirmed the doctor's diagnosis, and doctors repaired the hole while Robyn was still under anesthesia.
She got their autographs and her photograph taken with them.
Her health is better now, though she still suffers from asthma and is getting her body back into balance.
"She's happy, she's smiling," her mother said.
Those smiles will come in handy at the Miss Teen America competition, which consists of four parts.
"Miss Teen America is looking for a well-rounded, 'girl next door'," according to its website.
Robin will be interviewed, to demonstrate her communication skills. She also will be judged on physical fitness—the judges are looking for young women who are physically fit, energetic and healthy, with a strong sense of self-esteem.
Evening gown and fashion modeling are the other two categories. Robyn is expected to demonstrate grace, poise and elegance of carriage in the evening gown portion. The fashion modeling portion calls on her to model an outfit of her choice that portrays her teen spirit.
Debra said will supply Robyn's clothes.
"There's no talent competition, which makes me sad because that's my favorite part," said Robyn.
On the weekend after this interview, she sang and danced as part of an ensemble in Aida, a co-production of Pittsburgh CAPA Instrumental Music Department and Pittsburgh Musical Theater's Richard E. Rauh Conservatory.
Working in the performing arts has introduced her to students from CAPA, Mt. Lebanon, Shaler and Shadyside Academy, she said.
Students from across the area have problems with bullying, Robyn said.
"I have friends in (treatment) or who committed suicide because they have been bullied," she continued. "I still have friends seeing shrinks because they were bullied so much."
Asked from where so much ill will comes, Robyn said, "Most of it comes from reality TV shows."
Girls want to emulate Snooki from Jersey Shore, she said.
When asked about her long-term plans, Robyn said, "I really want to be on Broadway."
She also wants to go to an Ivy League school and become a pediatric gastroenterologist.
"I've got big goals."