Joanna Guy, 20, of Swanton, Md., is a rising senior at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., majoring in American Studies. She sings in a university a capella group and, until a few weeks ago, served on the executive board of her sorority as the vice president of recruitment.
Guy was also crowned Miss Maryland June 23, which requires her to serve in the position for a year, and automatically qualifies her to compete in the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas in January.
Realizing that she could not serve both her sorority and the Miss America Organization, Guy wrote an email to the members of her sorority, Alpha Phi, to let them know she would not be returning in the fall semester to serve as vice president of recruitment for her chapter.
She has garnered plenty of sympathy, but her letter has also been mocked and scorned by online critics who, in the case of school-blog commenter J.K. Trotter, found the statement about her decision "ridiculous."
"Sorority recruitment and pageant publicity are, after all, exactly the same thing," he cracked.
Guy could not be reached for comment.
Guy had written to her sorority sisters to "inform you about something that I can only describe as very painful, and one of the hardest decisions I have ever been forced to make."
In the letter, which was released by the Ivy League schools' blog IvyGate Wednesday, Guy said that being Miss Maryland is a full time job that would prevent her from returning to Ithaca in the fall, and from actively organizing Alpha Phi's recruitment in the spring semester.
She likened her new responsibilities to managing a business, "except I have no scheduler, no assistants, and no accountant," she said.
Guy said that her demanding job as Miss Maryland would require her to be "a highly visible public figure who must engage with citizens, government officials, businesspeople, and the media."
"I hope you can take a few minutes to understand exactly how serious this title is," she said.
IvyGate commenter Torie agreed, writing, "Like she said, being Miss Maryland is not always about being glamorous, but about getting her message out there, establishing relationships throughout the state of Maryland, and promoting her platform."
But another commenter found her letter trite.
"The only thing more trivial and banal than than [sic] being in a sorority is being in a f--king beauty pageant," Common People wrote."One would think that a woman bright enough to get into Cornell would at the very least possess some modicum of self-awareness. Apparently not."
Guy said she wanted to return to Cornell in the fall to try to manage all of her responsibilities, but "realized that would not be fair to either the organization who is paying me $15,000 in scholarship to do this job, or to Alpha Phi, which deserves the complete time and attention of its Membership Chair."
Instead, Guy said she planned to attend Cornell's program in Washington, D.C., in the fall, where she would enroll in both classes and have an internship, in order to be close to her home state to fulfill her duties.
Claudia Wheatley, director of media relations for Cornell University, said, "That letter was never meant to be public. It was a private letter between her and her sisters. Someone misbehaved in releasing it."
Wheatley said she is "staggered" by the involvement of Cornell students, and said their ability to juggle is something that they have been doing since they were in middle school and continued successfully into college.
But it's uncommon for many state representatives to attend school while fulfilling their duties, said Miss America spokeswoman Bonnie MacIsaac, given their schedule of appearances for their sponsors, their personal platforms and for local events.
"Their schedules are never ending," she said. "Most of them defer their education for a year or so, until after Miss America."
Guy participated in pageants in the past, and was third-runner up in Miss Maryland's Outstanding Teen competition 2008, MacIsaac said.
In addition to taking home the title of Miss Maryland this year, MacIsaac said Guy won the swimsuit and talent preliminary competitions, and was the overall winner in the interview round.
In the letter, Guy said she planned to return from the Miss America pageant in time for Cornell's rush week in January.
Linda Kahangi, executive director of Alpha Phi international sorority, said Guy's letter shouldn't be perceived as embarrassing.
"I think it was a great lesson, always write things as if your mom, dad, aunts, uncles, or pastor could read them," she said.