When TNH co-Editor and Publisher Eraklis Diamataris introduced Maritsa Platis during the latest TNH Discussions on Facebook Live via Zoom, he summed up what the newly crowned Miss International USA 2020 represented for Greek-Americans: youth, community, culture, and initiative. His first question was the one that comes to many people’s minds: “what made you want to get involved in pageantry to begin with?” and Platis answered that she always liked getting involved in worthwhile activities, but that “pageantry can bring the best abilities out of you.”
Platis began competing at 13. “I was shy, I wasn’t sure of it, but once I got on stage I felt like I could elevate my voice and use it for others during my reign and in my travels.” But her initial motivation included getting “involved in the community, getting to talk to people, and making a change with my initiatives.”
That was the dream, and the pageant process gave her the tools and mindset for making an impact in the real world – public speaking and listening skills – and gave purpose to her research passions, which have taken her into premed studies as a public health major at the University of South Carolina.
Asked by Diamataris about her initiatives to date, Platis spoke about Cradle of Love, an organization she created to address the dangers of parents co-sleeping with their children, which is associated with an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
“Over the years there are families I’ve known with children who passed away and I wanted to make a difference and help those parents that are suffering … I decided to help raise money for parents in need since studies show that parents with low incomes need financial support for cradles, cribs, and baby supplies.”
Now firmly on a healthcare track thanks to an inspiring 7th grade teacher, the multitalented young lady had explored different career paths – her first love, like a good Hellene, was archaeology – and has now focused on becoming a neonatologist. With her exceptional communications skills, Platis is as dedicated to working with new parents as she is to the well-being of the infants.
A question on the challenges of balancing the pageant competition and one of the most intense academic tracks caused Platis to exclaim: “I can’t believe I did all that!” The work is difficult she said, but noted that success is all about adapting – which she has always been good at that – but she acknowledges that COVID-19 has helped tone down her schedule, and thanks God for the opportunities she has been given.
On the practical level, the young dynamo offers the following advice: “get a schedule, write it down – that’s how I go up my levels of succeeding.”
Diamataris, noting Platis was crowned this summer and will travel to Japan for the international pageant next summer, asked if the experience had sunk in yet. “A little bit – I’m still on Cloud 9.” As for doing that all on top of schoolwork, evoking the age-old Greek can do spirit she declared: “I’m capable of anything.”
After Diamataris pointed out that most people don’t know about the behind the scenes process and don’t fully appreciate the credentials contestants must build up, Platis said, “to win a pageant, a woman needs much more than “looking pretty all the time. It’s also about the knowledge you have on different topics and what is going on in our nation … when you represent your nation who have to be quick thinking on what is happening in the world.”
She added that, “pageantry can be a mind game, and you have to be strong mentally. When it comes to preparedness, you work on it every single day … working on your knowledge and on who you are.”
Developing her interview skills, especially onstage, is critical, and athleticism is a big part of pageant credentials – and the Greek ethos of ‘sound mind and sound body’ motivates her tough workouts.
And she cannot hit the pause button on the community service or her initiatives.
Platis also wants people to know that “pageantry is not all about winning. I’ve lost more than I’ve won … it’s not about showing off … through pageantry I’ve learned more about myself, and it makes me a better person overall and a better competitor.” She added that “not everybody can compete in sports. I found my outlet through pageantry … and representing my country is an honor.” She feels very strongly about representing all people and all perspectives in the United States.
COVID-19 has disrupted everyone’s timing everywhere, but in Maritsa’s case – she believes everything happens for a reason – it is not all negative. The high-spirited American Hellene is happy to be representing the United States in a Japan next summer that will still be brimming with the Olympic spirit – which was born in her Hellenic homeland.
Hellenism is a strong part of her essence. Growing up, her Greek world was limited to the one Greek Orthodox church, St. John’s, in Myrtle Beach South Carolina, but it was such an enriched environment that, “it made me so appreciative of the culture.”
“I graduated Greek school and Greek dancing … growing up I was passionate about being Greek,” and every holiday she would dress up apropos of the day. Most people, especially her teachers, were delighted and embraced the Greekness she emanated and was so proud of. But not everyone understood her powerful blend of Greekness and Americanism. That topic launched a fascinating discussion between Diamataris and Platis about navigating the joys and challenges of being fully Greek and fully American in the United States. The rewards include cherished close-knit friendships from Sunday and Greek School and GOYA, and the thrill of being able to speak Greek when she was immersed in the culture during her visit to Greece last summer with her Thia and Thio.