Cantrell, a native of Warner Robins and a graduate of Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in voice in Mercer's Townsend School of Music before putting her studies on hold to focus on the Miss Georgia and Miss America pageants.
"The Townsend School of Music is extremely proud of Betty and her accomplishments. She is well loved and greatly respected by the students and faculty. She is a very caring student and has always sought to find the best in each person with whom she has come in contact," said Dr. C. David Keith, dean of the School.
"Several students organized a pageant watch party on campus last night. As the proceedings unfolded, there was a lot of tension in the room. Everyone was very, very excited to find out she won and will be representing Mercer and the Townsend School of Music wherever she goes."
Along with the coveted title of Miss America, Cantrell won a $50,000 scholarship to continue her education. She received an additional $2,000 for winning the talent portion of the competition on Thursday for her performance of "Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio" from Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly.
"Betty is a wonderful person, and we couldn't be more proud of her," said Dr. Martha Malone, professor of music and Cantrell's voice teacher at Mercer for the past two years. "She has determination, talent, is smart as a whip, and she has worked so very hard. We know she'll represent the University, Middle Georgia and the country well as Miss America."
While a student at Mercer, Cantrell twice won in her division at the Georgia National Association of Teachers of Singing statewide competition. She was also a member of the Mercer Singers, the University's primary touring choral ensemble.
"The wonderful part of the Betty Cantrell story is that Betty is just Betty. She is a team member and proud to be another singer in the ensemble – positive, encouraging, happy to do whatever is asked of her as a Mercer Singer," said Dr. Stanley L. Roberts, associate dean, Arthur Lowndes Rich Professor of Choral Conducting and conductor of the Mercer Singers.
As Miss America, Cantrell will set out on a national speaking tour about her platform, "Healthy Children, Strong America," and act as the official National Goodwill Ambassador for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.
Cantrell, who has aspirations of a musical theater career on Broadway, is the second Miss Georgia to be crowned Miss America, following Macon resident Neva Jane Langley Fickling in 1953. Mercer's state-of-the art, 200-seat performance center in the University's McCorkle Music Building bears the name of Fickling.
Founded in 1921, the Miss America Organization is one of the nation's leading advocates for women's education and the largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women. Contestants in the annual pageant represent all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
About Townsend School of Music
Mercer University's Townsend School of Music, encompassing the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings, the Joan Stockstill Godsey Center for Keyboard Studies and the Townsend-McAfee Institute for Graduate Studies, offers undergraduate and graduate professional music studies in a comprehensive university environment. An institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Music, Townsend is nationally recognized for its outstanding faculty, award-winning students, performance ensembles and state-of-the-art facilities. For more information and a complete listing of this season's concerts please visit www.mercer.edu/music.