365 days ago, I was a completely different person from who I am now. I was just entering college, a transition that was really tough for me. Berkeley is a drastic change from the quiet suburbs of Orange County that I grew up in. I’ve always been extremely dependant on my parents, both emotionally and physically. Heck, I didn’t even know how to do my own laundry coming into college. During this turbulent time, my uncle passed away 2 days into the semester, I was fresh off a horrible break up, and everything around me seemed so foreign.
Learning to adjust to this new environment proved to be harder than I originally thought. The family and friends I once knew to be my entire world were off living their own separate lives. I now had to foster new relationships away from the place I called home for the past 18 years. In high school, I was so focused on academic success and college prep that I forgot to enjoy being a teenager. I had taken over 17 AP exams by the end of my high school career and had a weighted GPA over a 4.5. However, I had not gone to a single high school dance or senior class event. I felt like I barely knew my graduating class. Towards the end, I even stopped dancing, my one creative outlet from all the stress. My two major goals coming into UC Berkeley were to: make stronger bonds with people I really connected with, and to follow my heart – wherever that may lead me.
With this in mind, I was able to make a close friend in my dorm building named Leilah. Even though we hadn’t known each other for a very long time, she consoled me when my uncle passed and stuck with me through everything. To this day, Leilah and I remain extremely close and I know that we will be will be sisters for life.
I was able to open up to Leilah about something that I had held in for a very long time – that I’m a survivor of sexual assault. After a triggering event in the middle of freshman year, I could not stop thinking about what had happened to me and had recurring nightmares of me reliving the experience. I had held this huge secret for years and the weight became too much to bear on my own. Leilah helped me come to terms with it and encouraged me to finally tell my family about it. After opening up, I felt like a bird confined to a cage that had finally been set free. My entire family responded with love and support. Even though they were all 400 miles away in Southern California, I felt closer than ever to them.
After gaining the courage to something I never thought I’d be able to do, I felt unstoppable. Towards the end of freshman year, I attended my first professional dance audition and made the cut! I also decided to participate in the Miss America Organization on a whim because I wanted to continue doing things that made me uncomfortable. To my surprise, I won the first competition I participated in and was crowned Miss County of San Francisco. The past 365 days have been an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows. I’ve grown more than I ever thought I could. I cannot wait to see where life takes me and to see how being apart of the Miss America Organization is going to shape me in the coming 365 days.