"Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. For what the world needs is more people who have come alive."
-Howard Thurman

Friday, November 20, 2015

Our Proposal Story

"Sometimes, right in the middle of an ordinary life,
love gives us a fairytale."

June 29th: With my boyfriend
Every year my entire family on my mom's side vacations at Litchfield beach. It's a very special tradition for us and a special place for our family. I have gone every year since I was born, and Paul has become part of that tradition the past several years. Every year at the beach is special- it's a sort of charmed place- a little piece of heaven for my family and I where I have always found peace and the joy of being surrounded by family. It is a place that has retained the magic it always had for me growing up, and has become even more sentimental for me as I have gotten older and realized what a treasure it is to share this tradition with a big loving family that I couldn't be more grateful for, and to watch as the next generation of our family grows up spending summers together just like my cousins and I all did. But this year, something extra special happened in this special place.

July 1st: With my fiancé (and a very special sparkler ;)
My fireworks definitely came early this year!
Paul wanted to propose at the beach because of the meaning it held and so that my whole family would be there, so he was planning to propose on the beach that Friday evening and had a photographer hired to capture the moment and everything. Meanwhile, with no idea what he was planning, I was planning a surprise photo shoot on the beach for the two of us for that Wednesday as an anniversary present. Just like him, I thought that capturing photos of us in a place that held such a special meaning would be precious. So essentially, we were planning the same surprise for each other at the same time, except his surprise came with a little extra sparkle ;) When my mom found out about the surprise I was planning, she already knew what Paul was planning, and so she told him about my surprise. With me still thinking the photo shoot was a complete surprise, Paul secretly contacted my photographers and made arrangements with them to hijack my photo shoot without me knowing.

I "surprised" Paul and we went to the studio (where everyone played off very well that they were all meeting for the first time- so sneaky!). Paul left me at Carter Studios to get my hair and makeup done (and put the final touches on his plan!) and met up with Jonathan and Heather Carter and me at Huntington State Park.

Our proposal story began at Atalaya Castle, the historic estate of Anna and Archer Huntington, perched on the edge of the dunes, overlooking the beach. Archer Huntington built Atalaya for his wife, Anna. It was her dream home and an escape for her where she could enjoy the beauty of nature and sit in the courtyard working on the art she so dearly loved to create. Today, the eighty-year-old castle stands as a tribute to their love story and a symbol of enduring romance. As a little girl who lived in princess dress-ups growing up, a real life castle was the perfect setting for our fairytale to begin. Little did I know my own prince charming was about to sweep me off my feet.

We took photos all around the grounds of Atalaya. Paul was noticeably sweating, which is completely unlike him, so of course I kept teasing him. "You are sweating!" "It's hot!" "It's not that hot!' haha. Heather Carter chimed in "aw he's just nervous being in front of the camera." I didn't suspect a thing at the time, but later it became pretty clear what all that sweating was really about :p

As the sun began to hang lower in the sky, we decided to head down to the beach. Jonathan and
Heather Carter told us they would go set up on the beach and pointed out a beautiful little path draped by branches from overhanging trees which created a sort of arch over it. They told us to head down that path to join them on the beach when we were ready. I had a dress I wanted to change into, so I changed, and Paul and I began walking out the beach. As we were walking, Paul began talking. I will never forget the moment I realized he was about to propose. In that moment, it was as if time froze momentarily as the entire world around us shifted into this dreamlike state that didn't feel like reality.

Quite honestly, I sort of blacked out and everything seemed like a surreal blur...but I will never forget the beautiful things Paul said to me. We emerged onto the dunes and Paul dropped down to one knee, pulled out a shell which was holding the most gorgeous ring I had ever seen, and asked me to marry him. I was shaking and crying and unable to process everything. It was an indescribable feeling, a beautiful state of shock and joy- I just couldn't believe this was really happening!

We both aren't sure if I even said yes, but, as the video confirms, I definitely did give him the wrong hand (luckily, one of us knew what was going on and the ring made it on the correct finger). I kept joking afterwards that I had only one job in that scenario and I literally did everything wrong. But it was perfect.

As the sun set, we spent a few moments just the two of us soaking in what had just happened. When we got back to our timeshare, my entire family (30+ aunts, uncles, and cousins) was waiting (and surprised me again!) with champagne and cake and had the whole apartment decorated with photos of us. It was so special.

The most beautiful part was that my sweet granny had just passed away a couple months prior, and her and my Pop (who is shown at the beginning of the video) had started the beach tradition which meant so much to her. Paul had Granny's diamond re-set into my engagement ring, and so although she was missing from the celebration, she was truly at the center of it. It couldn't have been any more perfect.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Are Pageants Really for Thinking People? My Response

"BOSTONIANS ARE thinking people; in fact, according to demographer Joel Kotkin, Greater Boston is the smartest metropolis in the nation. So why is there still a Miss Boston, and even more alarmingly, why do we have a Miss Cambridge?

Thinking people, after all, give prizes to people who’re the smartest, not women who’re the prettiest. And for all of pageantry’s insistence that looks don’t matter (wink, wink), that it’s about poise, talent, and the ability to be articulate under bright lights on a stage, the swimsuit competition staggers on, a triceratops in stilettos..." (excerpt from Boston Times article).

Earlier this evening, my aunt e-mailed me this article, "Are pageants really for thinking people?" from today's Boston Globe and asked me if I cared to counter? My response:

"So the ironic thing is, I would, but I'm too busy studying for my course...in Cambridge...that Miss America is paying for.  So essentially, I'm too busy  being a "thinking person," facilitated by my involvement in the Miss America Organization.  Oh well :p"

I will say, however, that I would argue that true "thinking people" understand that there is value in a multitude of talents and attributes- intelligence being one, but also commitment to something greater than oneself and service to others, as well as personal growth, informed engagement with relevant social and political issues, commitment and discipline, actively fostering healthy minds and bodies, and so on- all of which Miss America encourages and rewards. Yes, pretty women may be rewarded, but what is more important is that these women display true beauty through lifestyles characterized by compassion for others, dedication to furthering social causes of personal and societal importance, and by using their voices, talents, and yes, maybe even perceived outward beauty, to make a positive impact- to do something that matters ....oh and the "prizes" they earn, are scholarships...as in educational scholarships...as in college and university scholarships...you know, the places where most "thinking people" go to, among many other things....think ;)

Also, in direct response to the swimsuit competition comment- yes the swimsuit competition is designed to display fitness, but yes, it is also designed to showcase beauty- to celebrate a woman's pride in her body and confidence derived from living a healthy lifestyle.  In a world filled with photoshopped images, where young women are constantly inundated with illusions of the "perfect" female form that doesn't even exist in real life, I would argue that celebrating real womens' bodies and teaching young women to feel confident in their own bodies is not such a bad thing...and at the end of the day, the contestant may appear in a swimsuit for 30 seconds, but the growth she experiences through holding a title and serving her community, and the knowledge- both self-knowledge and more broad knowledge, gained through both her experiences while participating in the organization, as well as afforded to her through her scholastic endeavors, facilitated by the scholarships she receives from the organization- last a lifetime.  

And let me tell you- there is a lot to be learned through being involved in the Miss America organization.  I learned perspective from visiting wounded warriors; grace, strength, and the power of a positive outlook from visiting children in Children's Miracle Network Hospitals; the power of community and service through the volunteers and Miss Virginia family; diversity through travelling across the commonwealth and meeting people from a variety of walks of life...just to name a few.  And, perhaps the greatest gift of all- I discovered power within myself and gained a confidence that comes from witnessing your own ability to affect lives and to do something positive that truly matters (not to mention challenging and stretching myself in numerous ways and proving to myself I am capable of many things that were personally relevant and powerful). 

Pageants are not for everyone and every pageant organization is different, but they are a valuable activity and resource for many young women and instrumental in positively shaping many young womens' lives, providing them with opportunities to not only further their educations, but to further themselves personally and professionally and to express themselves in a multitude of ways.  The mentorship, meaningful friendships, experiences, and empowerment I experienced are lasting gifts that have benefited me since my involvement.  I am certain I would not be where I am today had I not been involved in the Miss America Organization...and where I am just so happens to be in Cambridge, specifically for the purpose of gaining a meaningful education and broadening my depth and scope of thought...because I am a "thinking person."  

Instead of forming opinions about something based on common misconceptions and stereotypes, which I don't believe takes a great deal of "thinking," I would encourage someone who is genuinely curious as to why pageants still exist, to investigate- try to see things from multiple perspectives and gain a more well rounded, deeper understanding.  In short, truly THINK about it.

...Okay maybe that counts as a counter :p 


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How A Mud Figurine Taught Me About Hope

 Manyang and me at one of his fundraisers for Humanity Helping Sudan that I had the honor of hosting.  Afterwards, I helped sell these figurines that Manyang still makes to raise money for his cause, and I learned the story behind them.  Who knew a mud figurine could be so inspirational?

During my year of service, I had the honor of working with the Humanity Helping Sudan project, which seeks to provide aid and assistance to the Sudanese Diaspora in the Gambella region of Ethiopia along the Eastern border of Southern Sudan. I got to know the project's founder, Manyang Reath, a young man who just exudes warmth and energy, with a contagious smile and a vivacious spirit that is immediately ascertainable to all those around him. On first impressions, you would probably never guess that a man who laughs so easily and radiates such a distinct sense of amiability has had a past filled with struggles that most of us can hardly imagine.
When Manyang was 4 years old, he became a victim of the Sudanese civil war. Before dawn, Northern soldiers descended on his home in Pochalla, chasing down and shooting the villagers and abducting women and children. Manyang's uncle grabbed the little boy, threw him up on his shoulders and ran.  After a long while they reached a shallow river and made it across but Manyang's Uncle was hit by gunfire and he died still clutching Manyang in his arms.

Manyang was able to escape and travel with other “lost boys” to a refugee camp. Orphaned and alone, with no food or water, no means of survival, and no one to care for him but his fellow lost boys, hope was dim. It would seem that he had nothing. But even then, he decided not to give up. He used the mud on the grounds of the camp to fashion small animal figurines, and sold them in exchange for food and water....and he survived. 

Eventually he was rescued and brought to the Virginia home for Girls and Boys in Richmond, where he lived until matriculating in to the University of Richmond where he is currently pursuing his bachelor's degree. Yes, his future now looks bright- but even the most hopeless situation, Manyang found “something” in “nothing,” and his story teaches us a valuable lesson- one that transcends to all of us in our times of struggle. There is always something. 

Congratulations to Manyang on being a finalist for the VH1 "Do Something" award! (watch the video from VH1 here: http://www.vh1.com/video/misc/827784/do-something-award-finalist-manyang-reath-kher.jhtml#id=1691749).  This is what I call BEAUTIFUL. 

The three figurines that came home with me :)

Friday, August 3, 2012

"I Do"

We are all different in so many ways-our complexity and nuances, the many facets that make us unique- that is an inherent beauty in our race...the human race that is. After all, when we strip ourselves down, remove all the labels that we put on ourselves and each other, that is what we are all left with. We are all simply human, no more, no less, and in that way, no different. And we all deserve respect and understanding. Furthermore, one of the beautiful things about America is that we are a culture that embraces diversity and differences of opinion- that encourages open expression, whether it be religiously, politically, personally etc.-that was founded on this very ideal- which is why our country places such a strong value on equal rights, and which is why our laws guarantee equal protection under the constitution. Because we are a diverse nation, we cannot make laws based on one cross section of the population or one belief system, because no one's viewpoint is more valid than another- that is not how our country was built.  It was built on the idea of individual freedom- on the idea that we are all guaranteed equal rights period, regardless of our individual beliefs.  Simply, everyone has basic rights, equal rights, and beyond that we are each free to express ourselves and our lives in whatever fashion we may choose.  To deny one cross section of the population a specific right for a specific reason is not what we stand for as Americans, and when it comes to our laws, our individual beliefs are not what is in question- for there are too many differing opinions for opinions to drive legislation.

Personally, I believe that no person should be discriminated against or denied any right based off of gender, race, sexual orientation, or anything else. However, my personal opinion is not what is ultimately in question. What is in question is what is right legally, not right based off my values or beliefs (or anyone else's), and in my opinion, denying same-sex couples the right to marry is contrary to the basic principles of American democracy.  The Constitution exists to protect human rights- not women's rights or men's rights or Christian's rights or Jew's rights- human rights.  The Constitution as a document seeks to liberate its citizens- with each amendment essentially being created to protect a population or guarantee a freedom (EG: amendments that protect the press, religious groups, racial minorities etc). The constitution protects our rights as Americans, it doesn't restrict them based on an individual difference. Therefore, even if the framers did not specifically have same sex marriage in mind when drafting the document in the 18th century, and even if some of their language seems outdated and subject matter irrelevant- their concepts behind the language and values underlying every subject are as relevant today as they ever were, and still extend to modern issues- values of freedom, of equal protection, of liberty, of empowerment. In fact, they very clearly state their purpose for drafting the Constitution in the preamble, which concludes with this mission: “(to) secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” the key words in this context being “liberty” and “posterity,” for they very distinctly indicate that the framers wished for this document to continue to uphold liberty for future generations to come, despite what new issues may arise in progressive society.

Our country was founded on this principle: that the law protects all Americans regardless of differences-we are a nation that was crated as a place where these differences can be expressed and celebrated- and the constitution guarantees equal protection under the law. A law making marriage illegal for one group of people is a direct violation of this, and that is ultimately why I believe homosexual marriage should be legalized. However, that is not why I support homosexual marriage (and I believe this distinction is important in this debate).

I support homosexual marriage because fundamentally I support people embracing who they are and I support healthy loving relationships in all forms. I believe that at the end of the day, regardless of everything that may make us different, we are human first. I believe that every person has value and merit and deserves to live their life out loud in a way that makes them happy, and that if their happiness does not impede on anyone else's, why shouldn't they be able to? I believe that regardless of your view of marriage, someone else's view doesn't invalidate your own, and someone else's marriage does not invalidate yours. Furthermore, in my view of God (which is again irrelevant to the legal point), God created each person to be beautifully different and who are we to question that? Instead, if we seek to honor God, let us celebrate his creation, every bit of it, and accept each other for everything we are, not only the parts that make us comfortable or that we understand.

Moreover, homosexual marriage does not harm heterosexual marriage. Every marriage is an individual relationship unto itself. With divorce rates at an all time high and infidelity in marriage a huge issue, if we do seek to "save marriage," perhaps we should focus our attention there, rather than denying rights to the portion of a population of people who already model healthy unions. And denying homosexuals the right to marry doesn't stop them from getting "married" either: it doesn't prevent them from entering into committed loving relationships, from living together and sharing their lives, from anniversaries and family vacations. It doesn't even stop them from holding a wedding, exchanging rings, celebrating their union with family and friends. It only denies them the legal recognition- the hospital visitation rights, the right to file taxes jointly and to share healthcare benefits etc. And why shouldn't they have those rights like any other monogamous and committed couple- because they happen to be of the same gender? How is that different than denying them that right because they are of different races (which our country has indisputably disallowed)?  There are so many things about us that make us different, what makes denying rights based on one but not another acceptable?  Who decides which differences should be protected and which shouldn't?  Think about it.

There is a lot of despair in this world- there is a lot of heartbreak and suffering- a lot that can't be helped, that we as humans don't have control over.  Why should we create another source of suffering that could be a source of joy?  Why shouldn't we celebrate love and commitment in all forms, human freedom, dignity, and happiness.  Why shouldn't we encourage people to embrace what makes them unique regardless of what it is, and do the same for others? Why shouldn't we liberate ourselves and each other from labels and see each other for who we are first? Why shouldn't we concentrate on that which unites us rather than divides us?

We all have different beliefs but our laws are not governed by our individual beliefs.  They are governed by our country's fundamental values, which also protect those individual beliefs: Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness (and yes I know that specific line finds root in the Declaration of Independence, although I believe the same values are echoed in the Constitution).  Living life out loud, being free to chose who you marry, and entering into a loving and committed relationship with that person and having that union recognized under the law seems to fit those values to me.

So do I believe in marriage equality?  Yes, "I Do."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Believe

I believe in kindness and respect, embracing individuality and diversity, and standing up for your values and beliefs while being open-minded towards others.

I believe beauty is as beauty does, and that it is not the way you look that is important, but how you see.

I believe that there are many forms of intelligence, and that every one has talent and something valuable to offer the world.

I believe that confidence and humility go hand in hand, and that although I am a very small part of this world, I can make a real impact.

I believe in lifelong learning and self growth, and that the only person I need to strive to be better than is who I was yesterday.

I believe regardless of all labels, we are human first, and that we should concentrate and that which unites us rather than divides us.

I believe that serving and connecting with others is still at the heart of humanity, even in this fast paced, technology driven world.

I believe in being an individual, but always remaining mindful that we are all part of something greater.

I believe in introspection and reflection, and in chasing down your passion like the last bus of the night.

I believe in doing ordinary things with extraordinary love.

At the end of my life, I want to be empty, to have used all my talents- to be completely and absolutely fulfilled.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Let us defy cultural norms imposed on us through media and other societal mediums and form our own paradigm of beauty...true beauty, deep beauty- not the superficial kind, for that is fleeting and subjective to say the least. This type of beauty has much more to do with how you live your life than the features you were arbitrarily born with (although each of these features is beautiful in and of itself for what it symbolizes and the gifts it carries with it, but I digress...) Superficial beauty is cursory- true beauty leaves a legacy. Superficial beauty requires no ownership, no character, no impact. True beauty means self-actualization and good will. True beauty matters. It is not something we achieve through make-up and curlers- it is within us, waiting to be harnessed, waiting to be shared- to be lived. Superficial beauty is seen with the eyes, true beauty- felt with the heart. Superficial beauty is pleasant, true beauty- stunning.
Have you done something beautiful today?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Let Us...": My Hope For This 9/11 Anniversary

Dear Friends,
  A very momentous day in our history lies before us, and today I decided to gather some of the thoughts that have been pervading my mind the last few days and spent a good deal of time reflecting and writing.  Consequently, I decided in the spirit of what I believe this anniversary means to me, I would like to share some of these thoughts with you all.  I hope that each of you are able to find your own peace and meaning in this day, and for anyone for whom this day hits especially close to home, please know that you are in my thoughts. 

"There is a reason God made the sunrise and sunset such a captivating marvel. This transition from light to dark should be marked by this awe inducing occasion, because it is notable. Without darkness, would we have the same appreciation for light? And without light would we understand the beauty and serenity of darkness? God calls attention to this transition by the spectacle of sunrise and sunset because it is important...within this contrast from one to the other lies its blessing". ~Me (from a journal entry I wrote a few years ago)

This 9/11, as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of a day that shook our nation to the core, let us reflect, and let us remember.  Let us take a moment to pray for those who have been lost, those who are left behind, and those who continue to defend liberty and sacrifice their lives everyday for our freedom. 

But let us also celebrate. Let us find the light that was created from one of the darkest days our nation has ever seen.  Let us find the beauty that was effectuated through the pain.  Let us celebrate the spirit of unity that arose; the heroes that triumphed; the profound acts of love and compassion, and of bravery and strength that proved what we are truly made of.  Let us celebrate our country, our rights and our freedoms; let us celebrate each other, express our love and hold our friends and families a little tighter...And let us celebrate life...for it is "short but sweet for certain.*"

Let us honor this day by recapturing some of that light that ascended from the ashes of 9/11 and using it to guide us today and in to our future.  Let us feel a little more united, a little more compassionate, a little more patriotic, a little more grateful, and a little more humbled.  Let strength be actualized through weakness, and hope emanate from despair.  We may be knocked down one hundred times, as a nation and as a people, but we will join hands, lean on each other, discover strength we didn't know existed...and we will stand up one-hundred-and one. 

Love Always,

(a photo from my year of service as Miss Virginia 2010 that I felt appropriate to commemorate this anniversary)

“Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. But not only of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew. “ ~President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001

*: "Celebrate we will for life is short, but sweet for certain." ~Dave Matthews Band