Commencement 2023: Jadah Nichols

A black female college student poses for a photo in a studio

75th Miss Stillman overcomes timidity, fear of failure to serve campus, community

By David Miller

A black male college student and black female college student speak at a lectern at a church
Nichols, right, speaks to students during freshman convocation in Fall 2022.

It’s hard to imagine an ambassador lacking confidence for the role. But when there’s a 70-year standard to uphold, anxiety and self-doubt can be overwhelming.

As Jadah Nichols took her seat as Miss Phi Beta Sigma during the coronation of the 74th Miss Stillman in the Fall 2021, the thought of wearing the heels and tiara as Miss Stillman was daunting, she says.

“I had doubts of not being good enough or reaching that standard,” she said. “It felt out of my reach, so it never crossed my mind that I wanted to be Miss Stillman.”

For Nichols, a rising senior biology major at the time, the role of Miss Stillman would be an experience she would need. The Montgomery native would campaign for the role and was named the 75th Miss Stillman in the spring of 2022 before her coronation last fall.

Now, as she prepares to receive her degree Saturday at Stillman’s commencement exercise, she’s thankful for the challenges the role has presented her, and how she was able to “break the ice” to meet the lofty expectations of being Miss Stillman.

As a top campus ambassador, the role of Miss Stillman requires a woman who is engaging and outgoing, and involved in numerous service projects both on and off campus. Initially, Nichols said she didn’t embody these key traits because she “was a very shy person.”

“Just being human, I still have times where I’m nervous or shy,” she said. “But coming out of that shell [as Miss Stillman] happened gradually. Having my first event built my confidence that I’m capable of finishing my year strong.”

Nichols would host “Chat, Chew, and Heels,” a student development course for women on campus, at the beginning of the fall semester. The goal of the event was to teach her classmates about professionalism, self-worth, and “heel” etiquette. Nichols said that, while planning the event, she would worry incessantly about “everything being perfect.” But, once the event was over an proved a success, she realized she “was worrying over nothing.”

“I realized it was the avoidance of failure more so than chasing perfection,” she said. “I had to look at problems as opportunities instead of obstacles.”

A black female college student and elementary school children pose for a photo in a classroom
Nichols, with elementary school students during “Read Across America Week.”

Nichols would carry that focus into her programming and service throughout her reign, from tutoring children every Thursday at Oakdale Elementary and participating in Read Across America with school children, to developing her own programming for Stillman’s students, like advocating for mental health on campus. Nichols said her continued self-maintenance would help her build meaningful relationships that would undergird this outreach, especially on campus.

“You have to try and connect with different people,” she said. “We all have different backgrounds, and not everyone can express their feelings. I really had to work at this to get women on campus involved and to feel comfortable.”

Building rapport and conquering her shyness were important hurdles to clear, but the role of Miss Stillman requires balance. Nichols, who plans to work in a hospital or rehabilitation center before attending physical therapy school, said meeting the rigors of a challenging biology major, her senior thesis, joining Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, and fulfilling the duties of Miss Stillman revealed a harsh, but necessary truth: she can’t be everywhere at once.

“Sometimes, life happens,” she said, “and I wouldn’t be able to do everything I wanted to as Miss Stillman. So, I had to learn how to manage my time and put my planner to use.”

Still, Nichols would find creative ways to use the narrow windows of time in her schedule to connect with the women across campus. She would use her Miss Stillman Instagram account to post weekly motivational quotes each Monday.

“The motivational quotes weren’t just for the other women on campus – it helped me, too,” Nichols said. “But when people started reaching out to me and thanking me for sharing the quotes, you realize how much it means to people. You never know how someone’s morning has started.”

Nichols said her experiences as Miss Stillman have helped grow her compassion and empathy for people, which will fuel her motivation to pursue a graduate degree in physical therapy.

She encourages women across campus to pursue opportunities that help them conquer fears and create meaningful experiences for others.

“Break that ice,” Nichols says. “Try new things and be your authentic self.”