STILLWATER — The expression on Miss America’s face was recognizable when her third-grade teacher joined her on stage Thursday.
It was the same look that was on the faces of hundreds of Stillwater third-graders as they listened to her speak in the Wes Watkins Center on the Oklahoma State University campus.
It was a look of childhood joy as for a moment, Nina Davuluri was taken back to being 9 years old in Ada.
Since winning the Miss America title in September, Davuluri has been touring the country to promote healthy lifestyles and the importance of educating young children in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Thursday, she stopped in Stillwater to speak to the city’s more than 600 third-graders.
Davuluri is a graduate of the University of Michigan and was Miss New York before being crowned Miss America 2014. She plans to go to medical school with the money she won in the pageant.
But years ago, Davuluri and her family lived in Ada from the time she was 4 until she was 10.
Her third-grade teacher, Mary Hatcher, said she hadn’t heard from Davuluri or her family in more than 15 years and didn’t know her former student was in the pageant circuit until the end of the Miss America Pageant.
“I barely saw her win,” Hatcher said. “One of the other teachers was watching and she told me that Nina Davuluri was Miss New York. It was surreal because I had no idea she was doing that kind of thing.”
Hatcher, who still teaches third-grade at Homer Elementary in Ada, said she was asked last week to help surprise Davuluri.
She was hesitant because it meant leaving her sick father, but ultimately decided she couldn’t miss the opportunity. But the surprise didn’t quite go as planned.
The two women ran into each other in the lobby of their hotel Wednesday night and recognized each other.
“We just hugged and had a movie moment,” Hatcher said. “It was better than what we would have had on stage because neither of us were expecting it.”
But even though she knew Hatcher was there all along, Davuluri said it didn’t dampen the moment at all.
“I remember her so well and have memories from her classroom,” she said. “It feels great for it to come full circle.”
For Hatcher, seeing Davuluri on Thursday was part of the rewards of teaching.
“I always like to know what my former students are up to because it’s part of my job to make sure they become well-rounded individuals,” she said. “I’m more excited that she has a degree and that she wants to become a doctor than anything.”
After the two had their moment on stage, Hatcher passed around the class photo from the year Davuluri was in third grade and told stories about how the little curly haired girl in the photo was a good student who was shy and quiet.
Looking at the picture, a lot of the Stillwater students were surprised to see Miss America in a Oklahoma classroom not too different from their own. All 600 got a good look at the picture, and Hatcher said she hopes they all got the same thing out of it.
“She was just an ordinary kid, too, who didn’t expect to be where she is today,” Hatcher said. “I think some of them saw that it could be them some day.”