LIMESTONE, Maine — Molly Bouchard recently learned that determination and hard work pay off, as she was crowned Miss Maine during the 76th Miss Maine Scholarship Pageant in Brunswick.

A former Miss Caribou and Miss Potato Blossom, Bouchard is a graduate of Caribou High School and a graduate of the Boston Conservatory of Music, majoring in vocal performance. She presented a classical vocal selection for her talent and her platform is STARS: Sharing Talents and Reducing Stereotypes. Bouchard also received the Steven Jensen Award and the Talent Award during the June 16 pageant.

The daughter of Jeff and Bonnie Bouchard of Madawaska Lake, Molly competed in her first pageant — Little Miss New Sweden — at the tender age of 7. She showed the judges her ability not by her excellent singing talent, but that she could see her mother in the audience singing the song along with her. She didn’t like that and stopped singing and put her little hands on her hips and told her mom that she could do it without her help. Her tenacity won her that title in 1999.

Bouchard was shy in school and had a feeling of being disconnected from her fellow students. The more she competed and wanted to feel connected to others, the more she realized that it frightened people away. She was always striving to be the person that she thought others wanted her to be, but this wasn’t her. She felt like she put up a facade, showing one side at school and her true self at home. It took a long time for her to feel comfortable in her own skin. This didn’t happen overnight and she had to overcome the same growing pains as other children. She just didn’t share them with anyone except her mom.

Bouchard, now 21, has been in at least 25 pageants and has 10 queen titles. She started at age 7, so that averages out to just under two a year. Her schedule is grueling and much of the preparation she now does herself.

Her platform for Miss Maine was discussed again at her July 7 “Road to Miss America Tea” at Cary Medical Center. “I stressed to the audience that each one of us has our inner gem and you can choose to use that and refine it and use it for good or you can just choose to use it in its raw form. I didn’t settle for my inner gem in its original form. You need to tap into the inner beauty and strength to make your life what you want it to be. When you step into that classroom, you can be good or bad, and it all starts with parenting,” she said.

“When I gave that speech, a little girl came up to me and said that she didn’t want to do the pageant because someone else from that community didn’t like her. I told her, ‘Why are you worrying about everybody else? Take care of you and work on your inner gem. Because when you are your best self, you are untouchable.’

“It is really simple and I really believe in the 10 two-letter word sentence, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’ I chose that life when I was in sixth grade. I remember thinking no matter how insecure I felt at times, I knew who I was and I was being true to that and if that wasn’t good enough for other people, it was good enough for me and I was going to move on. I attribute my strength to my parents. It is important to have a good mindset,” she said.

One of the issues with the Miss Maine pageant, Bouchard said, is the major lack of funds, which doesn’t allow the contestants to reach their full potential. Other states have $50,000 designated for national appearances, etc. Miss Maine doesn’t have that much in their entire fund for the competition itself.

“Miss Alabama gets a $50,000 scholarship, we get $8,500. Massachusetts gets the same as Alabama and they have a dress designer so that the girls can have any dress they could dream of. We have to pay for all our dresses and appearances,” she said.

Bouchard truly appreciates her sponsors — Monica’s Scandinavian Imports, John T. Noble — as well as everyone who gave to the Children’s Miracle Network.

Miss Maine is supposed to be equal among the states, but it is not from the financial aspect. All the contestants are hard-working, well-rounded, healthy-living young girls and women of today and unfortunately money speaks loudly. Bouchard isn’t letting this stand in her way as she prepares for the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas, which airs on ABC in January.

What is next for Bouchard remains to be seen, but you can be sure that she will put every ounce of herself into her message to help promote healthy, well-rounded youth.