Photo: Instagram

Former Miss Thomasville and current Miss Central Carolina has taught in Sanford for three years

By Billy Liggett

During the school year, she’s Miss O’brien, beloved first-grade teacher at B.T. Bullock Elementary School in Sanford. For the past year, she’s been Miss Central Carolina, representing her native Moore County and Sandhills region.

This weekend, Elizabeth O’brien has a chance to become Miss North Carolina, a title that would not only provide her a chance to reach more children, but provide a platform for her to promote a cause near and dear to her heart — supporting military veterans and their families. 

O’brien is one of 45 women competing this weekend in the Miss North Carolina competition, which starts tonight in High Point with the first of two nights of prelims before the finals on Saturday night. The 2016 Pinecrest High School graduate and 2017 Miss Thomasville — a title she won while a student at High Point University — has called Sanford home for three years, and her team at Bullock has planned a watch party for the big night on Saturday. 

O’brien was 12 when she first participated as a Carolina Princess for a contestant in a Miss North Carolina Teen event. Her first “win” came in 2014 while in high school when she was named Miss Moore County Outstanding Teen. Her foray into Miss Central Carolina ended a four-year break for competitions, and she returned to help pay off student loans that made her big dream — even bigger than Miss N.C. — a reality. 

“I have wanted to be a teacher since I was 7,” she says. “I used to play ‘school’ after classes everyday. My fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Mashburn truly changed my life and helped my confidence with reading. She showed me that we can always overcome obstacles with hard work and persistence.”

O’brien says the best thing about being a teacher is seeing a child’s love for learning flourish.

“First grade, in my opinion, is the best age to teach,” she says. “The most important thing I try to teach my students is to love one another and to ‘be a flamingo.’ My mission statement in my classroom is: “In this class, we are FLAMINGOS. Focused. Listening. Active. Mindful. Investing. Nice. Goal-setting. Observing. Scholars.”

Miss North Carolina competitions aren’t complete without talent showcases, and O’brien will sit down behind a piano this weekend. Classically trained since she was 5 (and currently training with local musician David Almond), O’brien will set the classic pieces aside and perform a North Carolina favorite — “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond — in High Point.

Should she take the crown, O’brien says her focus will be helping active duty military members, veterans and their families. Her community service initiative is Military Missions in Action, a nonprofit based out of Fuquay-Varina dedicated to assisting veterans with disabilities, homeless veterans and members of the Armed Forces and their families with programs that provide housing for families, support for veterans and their military dogs and supplies like clothing and personal hygiene items for homeless veterans. 

“My father recently retired from the military after an almost 30-year career as an enlisted soldier,” she says. “This cause is very near and dear to my heart, and I plan to continue to support this nonprofit if I should win.”

She’ll also focus on education in North Carolina, for obvious reasons.

“I believe that as a current teacher, I can help advocate for our students and our teachers.”

Learn more about Miss North Carolina: