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Here's proof that beauty and brains can coexist. Harvard U. junior Elizabeth Hancock shattered stereotypes last September by participating in the oft-maligned Miss America Pageant. And critics be damned: She says it was worth every poised step.

"I've always wanted to pay my parents back for everything they've done for me," says the Kentucky native. "I love to go onstage and perform, too, and thought this was the best of both worlds." She's not afraid to take sides in the great American debate, either. Hancock touts the pageant as a scholarship competition, not an annual body parade.

Though she wasn't a Top Ten finalist, the environmental science and public policy major did impress the judges, who awarded her the preliminary interview award scholarship. The judges aren't the only ones who are impressed with Hancock.

Pageant co-host Meredith Vieira offered her a summer internship at ABC's gabfest "The View" as she walked off the stage. And now that the show has canned Gen-X rep Debbie Matenopoulos, does Hancock harbor aspirations of replacing her in the coffee klatch? "I can't say I'd complain if they offered me a position!" she laughs. Barbara Walters, you've been warned.

By Nicholas Fonseca, Drake U./Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hancock

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