Courtesy of Katy Schmader / The Paisano
Alexis Harris sat in the studio audience fidgeting with joy and excitement, completely unaware of her rigged visit to The Ellen Show. She had no idea that Ellen DeGeneres’ staff had worked in secret to get her there. Under the impression that she, her mother and her younger brother had received tickets to the show, Harris had no suspicions for the last-minute trip to Los Angeles. In fact, the Ellen CoverGirl contest, which she had applied to months earlier, never crossed her mind the entire trip.
Upon their arrival to the studio, Harris and her family were unfortunately informed that there was only one ticket, instead of three. Her mother smiled to her saying, “Go ahead, you’re a big fan.”
While Harris sat in the audience, her mother and younger brother were ushered backstage in much confusion—they were as much out of the loop as Harris, and in surprise, joined her grandmother and sister-in-law backstage. DeGeneres and her staff left the whole Harris lot out of the planning.
As the show segments changed, the camera pulled in close toward Harris. She laughed at the possibility of being on television and turned to the girl next to her; they became fast friends. Harris whispered, “Oh my gosh, the camera’s on us right now. We have to laugh really cute!”
Soon enough, a mock CoverGirl press conference erupted on stage. Harris burst into tears and grins when her family members, who finally realized why they were gathered, ambled onto the set. DeGeneres announced them as the family of the new face of CoverGirl.
DeGeneres pulled Harris on stage, telling her, “To be your age and more concerned about helping other people, that’s exactly what we were looking for—beauty inside and out.”
As the eighteen-year-old junior anthropology major at UTSA now reminisces, her curls bounce onto her brightly colored top. “It was crazy,” Harris says. “It was absolutely insane.”
Harris was a long way from home that day, and now she’s back in San Antonio, $20,000 richer from her contest win, and back to her busy schedule.
Although she’s only 18, she expects to graduate with her Bachelor’s degree next May, two years ahead thanks to the Associate’s degree she acquired before graduating high school last year.
Apart from her beauty and brains, she has heart. Harris started the SMIILE movement, Students Making Impacts in Lives Everywhere, last summer.
The movement promotes student participation in their communities and stresses the importance of giving back and helping the less fortunate. At the same time, SMIILE hopes to create positive examples of students going against the stereotypical college lifestyle. SMIILE promotes donating, raising awareness and positive change in surrounding communities instead of what movies and culture view college life as—partying, smoking and drinking.
This is Harris’ favorite thing to talk about; her expression showcases a beautiful smile. “It’s definitely about being the difference as a young person and standing up for what’s right,” Harris explains.
In the coming years Harris hopes to work forward from the CoverGirl platform and carry out the goals of the SMIILE movement and other issues associated with poverty. Career-wise, she aims to go into legislation “to implement laws for those that are less fortunate, so those in need don’t get looked over.”
Harris aspires to speak to millions in the next ten years carrying the promise: “If you decide to stick out there and stick to your morals and values, you’re not alone and I’ll stick with you.”
Driven by the generous need to assist those around her, Harris will donate most of the $20,000 to Haven for Hope, her church and a soup kitchen from her hometown in Killeen, Texas. She will also donate to other philanthropic organizations.
Harris also plans to give some of the money to her mother, who retired this past December after 21 years of service in the military. Raised by a single mom, Harris acknowledges the pressure her mother went through raising her and her three brothers.
The most rewarding thing for Harris about being named CoverGirl is her mother’s reaction. “I’m just proud that she can say, ‘Hey, my daughter is successful,’ and she can enjoy that,” says Harris.
With her upbeat personality, Harris explains that good “me-time” and staying “prayed-up” helps get her through her crazy schedule. She explains that her family reminds her, “In all your hard work, definitely take time to enjoy yourself and spend time with those you love.”
Harris continues, “My mom taught us that prayer is definitely important. I depend on my relationship with God a lot. I think that’s what allows me to stay focused and to not feel stressed out or overwhelmed.”
While most people call her “Lex,” her personality is very fitting to a nickname given by her mother when she was younger. Booga Lew, or Bee for short, captures the fun flair of Harris’ giddy aura. She hides her face in amusing embarrassment, telling the story. “She doesn’t know why she calls me that, but I answer like it’s my name.”
With all the positivity reflected in her life, it’s hard to believe tragedy is her driving force, which she recalls as her defining moment.
Shortly after she graduated from high school, a young man from her town passed away while in Florida on vacation. “He went to this club and ended up getting into a fight and getting shot,” Harris explains. “Everyone knew it was out of his character to go out to a club scene… and that moment, when I found out that he died and how he died, that’s really when it hit me.”
Harris continues, “From then on, I felt like I had to do my part to inspire other young people to not feel obligated to conform.” Stereotypical behavior that is out of character for someone may cost that person his or her life, Harris urges, which is why she founded SMIILE.
With such a caring heart and a selfless smile, Harris already knows what she wants from life and has started achieving it.
“A lot of times, young people can be really selfish; people in general can be selfish and not want to help other people,” says Harris. “But that’s something I really want to do with my life as a whole. I want to help.”