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Hooters server is UNLV doctoral student, Knights cheerleader

Hannah Williams is a waitress and trainer at Hooters in Las Vegas. Last month, she was named second runner-up in the 2019 Miss Hooters International pageant in Lake Tahoe.

And, as impressive as that is, it’s just one of many accomplishments on Williams’ resume.

Williams, 28, holds a bachelor’s degree in sequential art (“I studied to be a cartoonist”) and a master’s degree in philosophy, and she’s now studying at UNLV toward a doctorate in educational psychology. According to her Hooters bio, Williams has published papers in academic journals on ethics, Russian literature and continental phenomenology. She has been a member of the Vegas Golden Knights’ Golden Aces cheer team since the first puck drop. She is also involved in a variety of community and nonprofit organizations.

Williams grew up in Mesquite, Texas, with no pageant experience. Then, after starting to work at a Texas Hooters restaurant during grad school, her manager suggested that she give the Hooters pageant a try.

Williams took the first runner-up spot and remains amazed about how “it really changed my life completely.” For one thing, the competitions — which the company says include women’s empowerment seminars and community outreach events — have given Williams the opportunity to talk about charities and nonprofits she supports.

For another, her subsequent returns to the pageant — June’s event was her fourth at the international level — “also provided scholarship money to help pay for school,” Williams says. “I’m student-debt free.”

She laughs. “Thank you Hooters.”

Williams moved to Las Vegas in 2016. “I came here because I was interested in coming to UNLV and I’ve always wanted to live in Las Vegas. I thought it was a great city, and I was right. I love living here, and every day I’m glad I made that choice.”

Williams and her husband, Seth, an airline pilot, have been married for three years.

Review-Journal: Growing up, were you one of those pageant kids?

Hannah Williams: Oh, goodness. I was not. I was a little tomboy all day. … I’m from a small town in Texas, so there really wasn’t an outlet for it. It wasn’t until I started working at Hooters while I was in graduate school that one of my managers came to me and said, “I really think you need to do this.” I was just like, “I’ll give it a try. Whatever.” That was my very first pageant, just a few years ago.

When people ask what you do and you say, “I’m a waitress at Hooters,” do you ever sense they might have a unfair stereotype about what that means?

Not at all. I think it’s the opposite. … We’ve had so many amazing Hooters girls who are attorneys and politicians and doctors and business figures in the community. So I think now the stigma that follows Hooters girls is that we’re accomplished and we have an entrepreneurial spirit and we work hard and give back to our community. I think that’s the real Hooters stereotype.

Your bachelor’s degree is in sequential art and you won an award in high school for your illustrations. Do you still draw?

I try to still draw every now and again. I do little pieces here and there. (Laughs) Most members of my family now have a piece whether they like it or not.

Maybe you could combine your degrees and do a cartoon guide to philosophy.

That was another motivator to get into philosophy. I’m a huge fan of Robert Crumb. I think when I was (in high school) I was in a comic shop, and he did a really beautiful collection of the Book of Genesis. It was absolutely beautiful, and it was one of those weird things that are life-changing. It was a good, I guess, boost in the right direction.

And you’ve published papers in academic journals?

Yes. That’s another great thing about Hooters. I’d get offers to come and speak at conferences and it was never an issue to get my shift covered. They’d always say, “OK, we’ll make up the schedule. Good luck.” It literally was no muss, no fuss.

What sort of takeaway would you leave with others?

If I can do it, anybody can do it. It was a lot of work, and sometimes I take a step back and can’t believe everything has happened the way it has. I have two degrees and pageant work and community work and everything. It seems like I live in a fairy tale, but it didn’t happen overnight. It was all-nighters and tons of work and getting scholarships and all the other things I look back on, and I can’t believe I pulled it off. … I guess my purpose is that maybe I can be that push to somebody else — “Hey you should try this” — like people have done for me in the past.

Your husband is an airline pilot. Please say that you met mid-flight or something.

I was working as a flight attendant when we met. He flew me home to a “Dungeons and Dragons” game. We were delayed and I asked him (on the ground, while cleaning the plane during a turnaround) if there was any way we could make up time. He goes, “I think I could fly a little bit faster. Where do you have to be at? Is it a family emergency or something?” I said, “I need to be at a ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ game. I’m a healer and my team’s not doing good.” (Laughs) He goes, “Say no more,” and we got in 45 minutes early.

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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