Jacqueline Wibowo Miss San Jose

Photo Courtesy of Larry Sacks

In the last 3 weeks since I became Miss San Jose, there’s a couple questions and comments I’ve gotten over and over again. They sound something like this:

  • But it’s your senior year, don’t you want to relax?
  • Oh, so that’s the thing where you walk around in a bikini right?
  • I like the crown. Your instagram pictures are so cute!

When people think of the Miss America program, they tend to remember only the surface level things they see on TV. To be honest, just a couple months ago, I may have asked the same questions of another titleholder.

I’ve been privileged to know quite a few titleholders throughout my life, some who started in the Outstanding Teen Program and some who have been on the Miss America stage. I always saw the beautiful social media posts – sleeping with the crown the night after you win a title, having hair and makeup done by a glamorous sponsor, getting to cut ribbons here and there for a community event. But, if that were all there was to it, I would also find myself asking the infamous question – How is Miss America still relevant in today’s society?

I have found that in just less than three weeks, my role as a titleholder has helped me truly reevaluate my values and align my goals with them. I believe that preparing for every single competition stage of Miss California is not about chasing a crown – it is about reflecting on what the best version of yourself looks like, and then setting goals over the next few months to become that you.


Many people don’t know that an interview is a part of the scoring, because it happens before the onstage part of the show. Each contestant interviews with a panel of 5 judges. Here’s a sample of questions I got in my interview:
Why did you decide to compete?
Your platform is SheEO’s – Women in Leadership, what would you say to the argument that women are just not as suited to leadership roles because of certain biological factors?
What do you think about all the recent news stories regarding sexual assault?
What should the US do about the Opioid Crisis?
What have you done in your community for your platform already?

As you can see, the questions really span the gamut – from why you would be the best titleholder, platform-related questions, to random current events questions.

I love that this is a huge chunk of our score, because every young adult will have to interview for something – whether for jobs or college. Having worked on Wall Street for the last 2 summers, I’ve personally been through my share of what some people would consider the most rigorous and selective interview processes for fresh graduates. But, I will be the first to tell you that despite having interviewed with some of the top executives in finance and Silicon Valley, I find Miss America interviews much more intimidating. I think it’s much easier to memorize technical terms and practice walking someone through your resume or answering how you would work in a team. Professional job interviews tend to be predictable.

In a pageant interview, your judges are looking to find someone who a community can both relate to and look up to, and ultimately the best ambassador for the program. This is why it is so important for a contestant to be up to date with current events, to have opinions but convey them respectfully, and at the same time be someone that could be best friends with an 8 year old girl. Preparing for these interviews requires me to think very carefully about my personal qualities and how I best want to market them. I truly think that this is a skill that many job interviews do not teach you.


Talent is my chance to share something I love with a full house. Contestants are judged on technical ability and performance, among other qualities. I’ve definitely heard people ask why Talent is a part of the scoring, stating that you don’t need an onstage talent to be a good representative.

However, I think it is so important for every individual to have something that they do just because they love it, unrelated to academics or their career. I absolutely love classical music – I’ve found that playing piano makes me happier, relieves stress, and increases my focus throughout my day. Unfortunately, when I got busy in college, it was one of the first activities I cut out of my life. My freshman year, I was lucky enough to be a part of an a cappella group, but I eventually gave that up when classes ramped up my sophomore year.

Thanks to my involvement in the Miss America organization, I’ve rediscovered my love for playing the piano, and am also motivated to schedule it into my calendar just as I would a class.

Lifestyle and Fitness

At the mention of the swimsuit category, many people in the audience – and even contestants – might squirm a bit. It’s the category that motivates comments that the program is misogynistic and objectifies women. We could spend a ton of time debating these points, but today I’d like to focus on the positive impact this category has had on my life.

Like playing the piano, health and fitness often suffers at the expense of other activities in my daily college life. There was a point in time where I wasn’t getting enough sleep and would eat mozzarella sticks at Stanford’s late night dining at least three times a week. To counterbalance this, I would sometimes skip meals. I naturally have a more petite physique, so on the outside, most people would still say I looked healthy. However, I found myself unable to focus in class and more stressed than ever.

The Lifestyle and Fitness category has given me steady motivation to work toward until June. Because I am representing a community, I want to look healthy and confident at Miss California, and to do that, I will make time for workouts every week, regardless of how busy I am. Whether or not I have a six pack by that time, I want to be proud of my progress and look confident and healthy, not sleep deprived or malnourished.

And let me tell you, from just being more cognizant of what I’m eating and fitting in a few workouts a week, I feel so much better and refreshed already.

Onstage Question

Jacqueline Wibowo Miss San Jose Onstage Question

Photo Courtesy of Larry Sacks

In this stage, contestants are given a random question that they do not know in advance, and have about 30 seconds to answer it in front of the judges and the audience. I think that a lot of people don’t know that we really have no idea what we will be asked, and do not have answers prepared in advance.

I’m not alone in thinking that this is the scariest part of the competition. After all, think about all the YouTube videos referencing “Maps” that go viral for all the wrong reasons. If you’ve seen these types of videos, I urge you to try to understand the pressure contestants are under before you make any judgments.

I think this stage prepares you very well for unpredictable situations you might face as a titleholder. Whether it’s a 4 year old or a news reporter that comes up to you, you never really know what someone might ask you. It’s great practice to know how to react calmly and give an articulate opinion on any subject under the sun.

As a senior soon to graduate, I’ve thought more and more about what the future might hold, but I’m thankful that I have some practice dealing with uncertainty.

Evening Gown

This is a contestant’s chance to feel the most beautiful she has ever felt in her life – walking down the stage in an evening gown of her choice. It’s not the dress however, that gets judged – it’s the overall impression of the girl wearing it. As a college student in the Bay Area, I often don’t dedicate enough time to self care. After all, Stanford is known for its chill culture – chill meaning rolling out of bed at 9:20 am for a 9:30 am class, sometimes in the same clothes you wore to sleep. Fun as this is, as a Christian, I truly believe that the bodies God created us with are meant to be honored and respected, to reflect our inner beauty.

Jacqueline Wibowo Crowned Miss San Jose

Photo Courtesy of Larry Sacks

Whenever you meet someone new in any setting, the first judgment they will make about you will be based on how you look. As objective as we try to be, we are all only human, and our first impressions will inevitably be affected by the first things our eyes see. People see you before you even open your mouth to speak.

I don’t mean to say that appearance is everything, or that it is more important than your internal qualities – but I do think it’s worth taking some extra time to dress and groom for an occasion – whether it is an interview or a cocktail party. Your personal style is a reflection of your personality, and I have found that taking some extra time to get ready in the morning gives me more confidence to take on the day. So, I do think it’s important for every woman to take some time to think about how she wants to create her first impression – whether that is by how she dresses or how she carries herself.

There you have it – the 5 stages of competition and why they’ve motivated me to give everything I have to improving myself in the next few months. Not to mention, I won about $2,000 at my local competition in scholarships and am guaranteed more scholarships by competing in Miss California. I am so excited for the rest of my year.

If you aren’t already, follow my journey on instagram @misssanjose_ca and my Facebook page – Miss San Jose Jacqueline Wibowo.

Amia Nash- Miss Silicon Valley

Hi! My name is Amia Nash and I am your Miss Silicon Valley 2018. I’m excited to share with you about my platform of stopping the stigma and mental health advocacy! My passion for mental health advocacy began with my personal experience, and it is something I have dedicated my academic work to. I am a graduate of Stanford University School of Medicine where I studied Community Health and Preventive Medicine. In this vlog, I share with you a little bit about the research I did with Stanford Center for Youth Mental Wellness focused on adolescent mental health, as well as, the research I am currently doing as a Health Science Specialist with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Check out the Miss Silicon Valley Instagram or Facebook page to learn about Stanford Medicine and Lucile Packard’s Children Hospital’s Adolescent Mental Wellness Conference this April, where I will be a guest speaker and leading the community’s conversation on overcoming cultural barriers to access.

Doing the Impossible- Miss Santa Clara

“Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and soon you will be doing the impossible.”

Taylor Yamane crowned Miss Santa ClaraI had never competed in a pageant before. This was my first time, and it took so much of my courage to apply because it felt like such a risk. I watched Miss America every year since I was a little girl, but never in a million years did I think I would participate in a pageant, let alone actually win one! I never thought I was skinny enough or a nerdy engineer like me belonged in the pageant world. I realized, I have spent my entire life breaking down walls that people put up before me, and this pageant could be my chance to change even more stereotypes.

I grew up on a farm in a small town in eastern Washington. I was raised by my farmer father, who is full Japanese, and my mother who is Irish, French, and Native American. It is safe to say my town had a very small Asian population. One day in kindergarten, a girl came up to me and told me that I wasn’t allowed to play with my fair-skinned, blond, and blue-eyed friends because my hair and my skin were too dark. Obviously in kindergarten, I never thought of myself as different from the other kids, but at that moment I realized I was different. I didn’t look like the other kids I went to school with, and my home life and traditions were much different than those of my friends (I was shocked when I found out not everyone had a rice cooker in their house!). As I got older, these differences become more prominent and easy for me to recognize. I decided to embrace those differences instead of letting them hold me back.

Taylor Yamane Miss Santa ClaraI was stereotyped a lot especially during middle school and high school, but I did not want to live in a world where I was inhibited by the social confines of what people thought I should and should not be good at just because of my appearance. I was the girl who sang the national anthem for her own varsity basketball games and track meets. I was a 5’3” hurdler in high school and a dang good one too! I was a district champion, a state qualifier, and I would beat girls in the high hurdlers who were 6 feet tall, with legs as tall as me, and built like hurdlers. People looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted to run the hurdles because I was so short. I also auditioned for and the received the part of the red-headed Annie in our high school’s musical production of Annie when I was a sophomore! I received so many funny looks when I told people I would be playing Annie in our high school’s musical until they heard me sing. Even coming to college in California, where the culture is so diverse with so many people from all walks of life, I was still felt set apart from the crowd as a female engineering student. I had to fight for my respect here and to show that women are just as smart and talented as men in STEM fields. I have decided no matter what people say, I am going to live my own life and accomplish the things that I want to accomplish and not let anything stand in my way.

Taylor Yamane HurdlesI had to use this same mentality when competing for Miss Santa Clara. My engineering friends thought I was joking when I said I would be competing in a pageant. They did not think a pageant was a place for engineers because they only thought of pageants as a competition to see who is prettier and can do their makeup the best when it is SO much more than that! It is a scholarship program where anyone who wants to compete can, and anyone can have the chance to win. With my title, I want to break down the walls and stereotypes that come with the word “pageant”. I am the last person I ever thought would win a pageant, and I want people to know that you can be an engineer and still wear the crown. I plan to use my title as Miss Santa Clara to share my story and show that if this small-town, farm girl can become an engineer AND Miss Santa Clara, then absolutely nothing is impossible with hard work and dedication!

Nothing But Gratitude and Goals- Miss North Bay

Molly Crawford Miss san diego, Molly Crawford San Diego State University

Courtesy of Hart Photography

I am an undergraduate, full-time student at San Diego State University studying Journalism and Media Studies with an emphasis in Public Relations, and a minor in Dance. I would not have had the means or courage to pursue my dream of higher education had I not taken the leap to compete in my first Miss America’s Outstanding Teen local pageant in 2010. I’m proud of who I am and who I am becoming, and the Miss America Organization is an integral part of that.

Molly Crawford Miss North BayOne of the most invigorating parts of being a local titleholder is attempting to live each day in embodiment of the Four Points of the crown: Scholarship, Style, Service and Success. College is one of the most challenging yet exciting goals I have ever set for myself. I take pride in my status as a student, remain eager to learn and be successful in my academic career. Nothing feels better than giving your school the scholarship dollars this organization provides. My personal style has evolved fluidly throughout my journey. It has become representative of where I’ve been, where I am at currently, and where I am pointing my arrow next. I am firm believer in the influence of everyday surroundings on the way you style yourself. My style projects an image of me that is representative of my adolescence in the Bay Area and my early adulthood in San Diego. My platform is called Perfect Imperfection: Body Positivity and Respect. I created this movement to inspire a culture of respect and positivity when we talk about our bodies and their differences, particularly among children and teenagers. Serving my community in this way has allowed me to contribute to the Body Positive movement. Success is something I strive for in every part of my life with each day I pursue my dreams.  

Courtesy of Hart Photography

Courtesy of Hart Photography

If I could add a fifth point to the crown, it would be Sisterhood. Beyond the scholarship and the opportunity for personal development, the Miss America Organization provides a place for people to connect and create long lasting relationships with some of the world’s best people. I have found some of the most wonderful friends in the contestants, volunteers and sponsors I’ve had the opportunity to work with and get to know. I have found so many people who inspire me to push myself, be kind and to remain grounded in my purpose. I am an advocate of empowering others due, in large part, to the people I have met through the Miss America Organization. The sisterhood is strong, influential and so very real.

Molly Crawford Dancing Miss North BayBeing a Miss America local titleholder affords women endless, incredible opportunities that are extraordinarily unmatched. There are obvious perks, like the scholarship money each contestant is awarded, the chance to make a difference in our communities, and the ability to train professional, social and emotional skills in the field on a regular basis. “Adulting” is my favorite way to put it. This organization gives women scholarship money in exchange for the chance of a lifetime. I have spent the last seven years competing in this organization because my involvement in is directly tied to the accomplishments from all facets of my life.

I am honored to be Miss North Bay 2018. Being a Children’s Miracle Network Ambassador, and an advocate for body positivity and respect is an absolute dream come true that I am fully engaged in. I am diving into this year of service with gusto, courage and so many ideas I can’t wait to manifest. Follow me at @MissNorthBay on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with my journey!

Tiny But Mighty- Miss Bay Area

Ashley Nelson Miss Bay AreaGrowing up I have always been looked down upon… literally. My short stature has always made me feel in some way inadequate. For example, in certain buildings, the mirrors are placed too high and all I can see is the top of my head. Also, some eye holes in doors are too high for me to look through.

In addition, when people first meet me they say you’re so “cute”, because you’re so “tiny”. When I was younger I took these comments graciously, but as I became older, I wanted to be noticed for more than just my height when people first met me. I wanted to be noticed and remembered for my confidence and how personable I was, rather than just my small stature.

Ashley Nelson Miss Placentia's Outstanding TeenEntering the Miss America Organization gave me the opportunity to do so. I was a fairly new teenager coming into this program and it was around the time I truly wanted to find out who I was as a person. After holding my first title as Miss Placentia’s Outstanding Teen 2015, I gained so many qualities that boosted my confidence and pushed me to be a better representative of not only myself, but of something greater than myself. I learned that I am not just what is on the outside, but I am so much more than that. I am a strong, independent woman who has her own opinion and can stand in a room and exude an inviting essence.

Ashley Nelson MIss Bay Area 2018I’m so grateful for the Miss America Program for giving me the opportunity to find out who I am while representing the cities I love. Winning the titles of Miss Placentia’s Outstanding Teen 2015 and now, Miss Bay Area 2018 proved not only to myself of my capabilities, but also how unique this organization is. It is purely about who the women are on the inside, and shows it is not in search for a cookie cutter type. It promotes diversity and individuality, and I am honored to be part of this organization. I hope to grow even more as a woman this year as Miss Bay Area 2018 and I cannot wait for the experiences I will gain.

I know now, that I am not just a five foot girl who only sees the top of her head in mirrors, but I am a confident and successful woman, and I owe that all to the Miss America Program.  

Get to know Anaheim with Miss Anaheim, JR Nessary

Growing up in Anaheim has been one of the best parts of my life! Being able to represent and serve my hometown is one of the greatest opportunities I have ever had. Anaheim is a kind, inviting, and special city! Come along with me, in my vlog, as I have the privilege of showing you around the best city, in the best state. We will see some special places that Miss Anaheim gets to visit, and some special people Miss Anaheim gets to work with, during her year of service. We will stop by some of the world famous stadiums, arenas, and even one very magical theme park, that are all located in the heart of Anaheim. The places I highlight are just a handful of the wonderful spots that are located in the city of Anaheim. I hope you enjoy this vlog as much as I enjoyed traveling through my city to film and showcase it!
Much love, from Anaheim,
J.R. Nessary
Miss Anaheim 2018

Miss Redwood City/San Mateo County- Writing My Own Path

2My summer break at eleven years old was for lazy days spent in my room, pouring through book after book.  While other kids ran around in the sun, I traveled to far off places and went on daring adventures, saving the town, or the kingdom, or the world. Unlike real life, reading books I was a magician, a princess, a mermaid, Miss America… I could be anything. And every few weeks, when the stories ran out, there was an even more magical place waiting for me: the public library. I went in empty handed and emerged with a stack of books as long as my tiny arms, filled with everything I grabbed off the shelves on our weekly visits to the library, and a few bonus ones thrown into the pile by a kindly librarian. One of those extra books was called The Kingdom Keepers, and while I liked the dozens of other books I brought home, Kingdom Keepers was the only book I fell in love with from the first page. Seven teens in the Disney parks after dark, fighting the Disney villains who’ve come to life and are trying to take over the parks? For a Disney nerd like me, it was everything I could dream of.  

1I devoured the first Kingdom Keepers book, and over the next few years I devoured the second, third, and fourth books too. I read each one over and over again until I could finally be at the bookstore first thing the morning the next book came out, impatiently waiting for the booksellers to open the boxes of shiny new copies. In a world of middle and then high school chaos, confusion, pressure, and loneliness, the Kingdom Keepers books became my sanctuary. No matter what was going on in the real world, I had seven best friends tucked away in the pages of these books, and so I read them over and over and over again.

In fact, I read them so many times that I began to notice inconsistencies in the story, hidden in the details. Characters walking through a door twice, room locations changing, etc., things that didn’t quite add up. Even more, there were little details in the Disney parks, like dining rooms with the wrong names or an audio-animatronic’s hairstyle that wasn’t right. Things that no one would notice or know were wrong unless they’d read the books dozens of times, and unless they spent their free time reading Disney blogs and history books. But I noticed.  

So, I did what any fangirl would do; I came up with a crazy idea. Throughout my entire summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school I post-it noted every inconsistency in the series. And when Ridley Pearson, the author of the Kingdom Keepers series came to Kepler’s Books, my local bookstore, I took my books to be signed, post-its and all. And when Ridley asked me what the sea of pink and blue tabs sticking out the sides of his books was about, I told him they were inconsistencies.

4In the plot twist of all plot twists, my favorite author’s reply wasn’t ‘Wow, rude’ but instead “Wow, I’ve been looking for someone to find these for me. I just got the fifth book back from the copy editor, could you read it for me and find all of these before it gets published?”

My eyes went almost as big as the ‘surprise’ emoji, and I managed to squeak out “I’d love to!” (And later I looked up what a ‘copy editor’ was).

I got the next book in my email inbox that night, the shiny new manuscript, the one that wouldn’t be published for another eight months, the one that everyone else in the fandom was just dying to read, and now I got to. If elation, shock, and excitement could kill you, I would’ve dropped dead right there.

That night, in a matter of hours, I went from average high school student to continuity editor, and then a researcher, brainstormer, events and social media assistant on a New York Times bestselling series. I ended up a manager for the Kingdom Keepers Insider website (kingdomkeepersinsider.com) and co-authored The Syndrome, a novella in the series. Ridley even wrote me into the 7th book as a character. I became a fictional character in my favorite book series! Suddenly, all my nerdiness and wasted time reading Kingdom Keepers and learning every detail about Disney was important.

More than that, for the first time in my life, something mattered. My work mattered. My opinion mattered. People actually wanted to hear my monologues about how the first audio-animatronics were invented for the Enchanted Tiki attraction after Walt Disney bought a mechanical bird on a trip to New Orleans, and that originally it was meant to be a dinner show, which is why to this day it’s the only attraction with a restroom. Knowing that the Disney Gallery is in the building that housed the Bank of America on opening day and the original vault is still there wasn’t a useless fact anymore, it was helping make my favorite books better.  For the first time in my life, I realized I had a voice.

3It changed everything for me. I became a writer, and went on to major in creative writing in college. I went from being a painfully shy kid to being comfortable talking to an assembly of school kids and chatting up thousands of people at book signings. I studied abroad in Buenos Aires and Shanghai. I interned at Shanghai Disney Imagineering. I found my way into a full-time job, at a tech company, of all places. Kingdom Keepers even gave me the confidence to start competing in the Miss America system four years later. Everything I have in my life now is because just one person (who happened to be the author of my favorite book series) showed me that I have a voice.

That’s why my platform, Guiding Girls to Write Their Own Path, is so important. Creative writing mentorship changed my life, and in working with organizations like WriteGirl, I’ve seen it change other girls’ lives too. WriteGirl pairs girls from underserved communities with mentors in creative writing fields, to help them not only learn to write well, but more importantly to find their voice. Serving as a mentor with WriteGirl, I’ve seen mentees go from shy kids to empowered women, ready to take on the world, go to college, and change their communities for the better. If women are going to change the world, we have to learn to speak up first. We have to find our voice.

But we don’t have to do it alone. We can pull each other up. Remind each other that we all have a voice. That we all have a story, and that story’s worth sharing.

After all, our voices are louder together.


Follow my year on Instagram at @missredwoodcity and @misssanmateocounty, and read more of my story at brooke.muschott.com

Miss Garden Grove- Where Sash Meets Science

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Volunteering at USC-affiliated Children's Hospital of Los Angeles

When I share that I am pursuing a career in medicine while wearing a sparkly accessory (albeit one that is perhaps not the most inconspicuous), I often get a few raised eyebrows. For some, it can be understandably difficult to reconcile the two and imagine how two seemingly different worlds could mesh together. But having traversed both paths, I can attest that the two worlds are inextricably linked and each arena compliments and enhances the other. Having gone from a complete outsider to now a staunch supporter of the mission and values of this organization, I can share firsthand the impact the Miss America Organization has made on me.

Sarah Bui Miss Garden Grove
The Miss America Organization is founded on four principles, also known as the “four points of the crown”: Service, Scholarship, Style, and Success. This multifaceted foundation enabled me to be a better public servant and has equipped me for a lifelong devotion to service in medicine. The medical vocation is most notably marked by a relentless commitment to advocating for others. I am most grateful to the Miss America Organization for allowing me the opportunity to do exactly that each and every day as Miss Garden Grove. Not only am I privileged to be a voice for my hometown at large, but I am also blessed to meet community members from all walks of life. From the precious kids at our Children’s Miracle Network hospitals to the devoted members of our Garden Grove community service groups, every child, parent, and public servant has shaped me by sharing their story. I met a woman who shared how the Pink Door Salon, our incredible local (and state!) sponsor, had changed her life by helping her heal and regrow her hair after experiencing alopecia areata symptoms. By taking the time to hear her journey and healing process, I better understood how we as healthcare providers can empathize with and advocate for our patients. Connecting with the Garden Grove community continues to mold my vision for what it means to serve, care, and advocate well both at the individual and community scale.

The very people that I am privileged to serve are the ones who have generously supported my academic journey and helped me to attain my Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of Southern California in three years. In addition to awarding scholarships, this organization has given me the tools to help me hone my public speaking and communication skills in professional and diplomatic settings.

Steve Jones, the Mayor of Garden Grove, is also an USC alum!

Steve Jones, the Mayor of Garden Grove, is also an USC alum!

Success looks different to each individual. Personally, I experience success in investing and sowing into relationships – from my Garden Grove neighbors and friends, to the people I meet from all over the world. Each of us have the ability to sow into relationships and lift up those around us, with or without a title. That being said, it has been an honor to have a platform to mentor and empower the youth in my community, and to learn from those who have gone before me.

The past few years have remarkably transformed my outlook and vision of what it means to truly have a servant’s heart. I can’t wait to see what growth, challenges, and blessings lie ahead in this coming year.



Excited to share this journey with you all – join me on Facebook and Instagram at @missgardengrove to stay in touch!


Yours truly,

Sarah Bui

Miss Garden Grove 2018

Life as a “Fresh” Amazonian

Trisha Vijay, Miss Contra Costa County, works at Amazon

Trisha Vijay, Miss Contra Costa County, works at Amazon

I was assigned an eager interview buddy when I arrived for my super day interview at Amazon’s Headquarters in Seattle over a year ago. At the time, I was about to enter my last semester at UC Berkeley, ready to graduate, and nearing the end of the tiring recruiting process all students trek through when planning to enter the workforce after their senior year. My buddy had been working at Amazon for two years, straight out of college, and was eager to share her experience. Prior to arriving at the headquarters, I hadn’t heard much about Amazon’s work culture. I assumed that like most tech companies these days, the quality of life was well taken care of, cushy, and nurturing. It was the middle of finals week back at school so my mind was wandering in and out of the conversation with my talkative buddy, but I snapped back into reality when she asked anxiously if I had heard anything about Amazon’s work culture. Before I could respond, she had already launched into a seemingly prepared speech about how encouraging and open the workplace is and how it’s nothing like described in The New York Times. I hadn’t actually read the exposé, but she had already planted the seed of curiosity in my head.

After returning from my interview, I immediately went online to find The New York Times article my buddy had brought up. The first bolded quote was “nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” As a female new grad, looking to enter an industry that has not always been welcoming to women, I was immediately apprehensive of knowingly joining a culture that was publicly and proudly boasting “The Amazon Way.” From Jeff Bezo’s letter to his shareholders in 1997: “You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.” I had to think long and hard about the quality of life I wanted to have for myself just out of college and if this culture was worth the potential emotional agony that seemed to come with the job.

A few days after my final interview, I received news from the recruiter that I had gotten the job. Though I should have been excited, I was apprehensive about the opportunity. After reading the NY Times article, I scoured the internet for other opinions on Amazon’s culture. Some applauded Jeff Bezos for the productive, inspiring work environment he had created to extract the best from his employees. Others criticized the toxic experiment Bezos had created to push white-collar workers to the brink of breaking. However, out of the other job offers I had received, the position at Amazon was the most interesting and would set me up for the career I had always planned for.

Though I knew the job would be demanding, I was intrigued by the 14 Leadership Principles the company and Amazonians stood by faithfully:

  • Customer Obsession
  • Ownership
  • Invent and Simplify
  • Are Right, A Lot
  • Learn and Be Curious
  • Hire and Develop the Best
  • Insist on the Highest Standards
  • Think Big
  • Bias for Action
  • Frugality
  • Earn Trust
  • Dive Deep
  • Have Backbone: Disagree and Commit
  • Deliver Results

The principles that I most aligned with were: Ownership, Learn and Be Curious, Think Big, Bias for Action, Earn Trust, and Dive Deep. They were the principles that I realized I innately stood for and were my “superpowers” as my boss now calls them. I knew it would be hard to balance all the things important to me, along with a demanding career, but I was eager to try anyways.

On my first day of work, I was whisked through the office and introduced to everyone as “the new grad.” Almost everyone I met commented on how “fresh” and impressionable I was since I was working at Amazon straight out of college. They all said how lucky I was that I was getting the hardest part of my career over with right when I was starting out. It would only get better from here, they said.

Fast forward, six months later and I am loving my job. There have been many long nights and challenging days, but I’m being pushed beyond what I thought I could accomplish and enjoying the learning process. There is something new I can learn from everyone in my office and they are all open to teaching. The work is fast paced, but every project I’ve taken on has urged me to learn something new and develop my skillset. Not a single day has been the same.

The work culture is definitely demanding, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that though deadlines were tight, everyone around me was willing to do their share to make it happen. I have never felt I’ve been given an unreasonable task and left without the tools to actually execute. Everyone around me wants me to succeed and I can feel the team mentality that we’re all working towards the same goal.   

However, as I approach my six month mark, I’ll admit the one area of life I’ve been lacking has been actively trying to find a work-life balance. I find myself skipping events with friends and constantly being on my phone to send emails with the reasoning that I’m still new at work and need to prove myself to my peers. I’m slowly starting to realize that though it’s important to cultivate good working relationships with those in the office, it’s just as important to create and maintain personal relationships with those who have stood by me since I was young.  

I turned to my mentors I had made in college through the non-profit, Women in Network. I had been part of the organization since its inception and is one of my main activities outside of work. The mentors in the organization had all been working for a few years out of college, and I figured they would have the best advice on what to do in this situation. After discussing with them, I had made a list of things that were important to me when starting my adult life:

  • Relationships with family and friends
  • Health
  • Challenging and fulfilling career
  • Time to invest in my personal interests

Making this short list has helped me to start reprioritizing my decisions and investing time in myself. I’ve started reading books in my free time and listening to podcasts while I sit through traffic to and from work. I try to see friends a couple times a week and prioritize my time with family. I’m working towards making tweaks in my daily routine to move towards a better work-life balance, without forfeiting time with friends and family or success at work. Small things to start to hopefully ease into big change later! Though it’s still early in my adult life, I feel optimistic about the impact I’ll make on my work and friends, without sacrificing one or the other.

365 Days Ago

PastedGraphic-2365 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. Ive always been extremely dependant on my parents, both emotionally and physically. Heck, I didnt 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.

PastedGraphic-3Learning 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 hadnt 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 Im 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.

PastedGraphic-4After gaining the courage to something I never thought Id 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. Ive 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.