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There's something different about Miss Smiling Eyes Pittsburgh

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 10:47 a.m.
Maggie Donaldson, 17, of West Deer (left) signs with classmate Xiajiang Reeves 17, of Friendship during their physics class on Friday, March 8, 2013, at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Swissvale. Also a Deer Lakes High School student, Donaldson was named Pittsburgh’s 2013 “Miss Smiling Irish Eyes.” Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Maggie Donaldson, 17, of West Deer was named Pittsburgh’s 2013 “Miss Smiling Irish Eyes.” Photo taken March 8, 2013.

Maggie Donaldson demonstrates that the luck of the Irish, in reality, comes from hard work and dedication.

The 17-year-old West Deer girl was crowned this year's Miss Smiling Irish Eyes Pittsburgh.

She will lead Pittsburgh's St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday, riding a float and then watching from the grandstand.

“Miss Smiling Irish Eyes is a huge honor, really,” Donaldson said.

It's an honor that goes each year to a female of Irish descent in the Pittsburgh area between 17 and 22 years old. Applicants are selected based upon their demonstration of moral character, ethical ideals and poise, according to information from the Miss Smiling Irish Eyes committee.

This year, the honor is even more special, for a number of reasons.

First, Donaldson is the 50th Miss Smiling Irish Eyes Pittsburgh to be named.

But that's not the most important distinction.

Donaldson is also the first deaf woman to receive the honor in its 50-year history.

“I have always told myself that if I ever won, I would prove to everyone that deaf people can do anything if they set their minds to it,” she said in an interview via email.

It's clear that Donaldson, who attends the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf as well as Deer Lakes High School and Waterfront Learning, has applied that belief to everything she does.

“In order to win the title, you have to be involved in community service, school athletics, extracurricular activities, earn multiple awards and be extremely involved in the Irish community,” she said.

She does all of that, and more.

Donaldson is valedictorian at her school and a member of the National Honor Society. She serves as vice president of her student government as well as the vice president of the Junior National Association for the Deaf.

In addition, she lettered in track, volleyball, cheerleading and softball.

She is also president of the junior Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians — Division 23, an Irish Catholic organization.

“We're very proud of Maggie. She's an outstanding young girl,” said Peggy Cooney, chairman of the parade's Miss Smiling Irish Eyes Committee.

Cooney said Donaldson has been a member of the Hibernians since she was young. She noted that Donaldson has found unique ways to help others, like organizing a prom at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

“One of the last things she said (on her Miss Smiling Eyes application) was she feels it's her responsibility to get rid of the old connotation of ‘deaf and dumb,'” Cooney said.

It's clear that Donaldson sees her situation as the furthest from that.

In fact, she says if she weren't deaf, she might not push herself as hard as she does.

“‘Deaf and dumb' is a silly stereotype that clearly does not apply to us anymore,” she said. “There are so many successful deaf people out there.

“Being deaf has been a blessing for me,” Donaldson said. “I've been able to see life through my hearing family, and through my deaf friends and community.

“It's made me work hard to prove that I'm no different than anyone else.”

Her parents, Lilli and Tom Donaldson, are proud to see their daughter receive the Miss Smiling Irish Eyes crown.

“She has wanted this since she was a little girl and it's so nice to see one of her dreams come true,” said Lilli Donaldson.

“Maggie has always been a very motivated person. She has her different schools and activities and manages them all quite well.”

In turn, Donaldson credits her family as inspiration.

“My parents have always pushed me to work hard,” she said. “They never let me use my deafness as an excuse to not do my best.”

Julie E. Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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