By: Jacqueline Petescia PC ‘18
My Junior Year, I moved from San Diego, California to Southlake, Texas. It was an emotional whirlwind that I had never expected. Suddenly my plans of spending the rest of my life on the beach had been demolished in a matter of days, and I had been ripped from the friends I had grown up with my entire life. I was now living halfway across the country from any sort of social comfort.
I struggled so hard to make friends arriving junior year in a place where everyone had gone to school together since kindergarten. Throughout my junior and senior year, my friend groups seemed to change so often. I felt as though I was being passed along from friend group to friend group trying to find my home. I was a floater, an outsider looking in on what I had once had in San Diego.
Although so much had changed with the move, I had one constant in my life that I knew would be there no matter which state I lived in; The Miss America Organization. Although my love for this scholarship organization was able to thrive in my new environment, something was still missing. People at school would treat me as though my passion for volunteering through the Miss America Program was something to be seen as a disgrace. I felt as though I was constantly defending myself against “Toddlers in Tiaras” remarks and how if I compete in pageants, (which the Miss America Program is NOT a pageant but a scholarship competition) I must be dumb and incapable of achieving a higher education from any university. Especially one as prestigious as The University of Texas at Austin.
I was really and truly deeply hurting. Not just from the ignorant remarks of people who didn’t take the time to get to know me or what the Miss America Program is really about, but also from the assumptions they had made about me based upon those stereotypes. I remember seeing everyone’s posts on Instagram and snapchat with their friends and my heart would begin to feel so heavy. I would bawl to my parents about how I wish I could have that. How I wish I had a group of girls who would support each other, rely on each other, and protect each other. It sounds so silly to say it out loud now, but I would pray each night for just a few friends to help me not feel so lonely. My dad kept telling me that I just needed to be patient and that my time would come. That the universe was going to make up for what it had taken away from me and add even more to my life. I didn’t believe him but in typical dad style, he proved me wrong.
By the middle of my senior year, my luck started to turn around. I was beyond ecstatic to have been admitted into my dream school, The University of Texas at Austin with not one but two majors in Health & Society/ Pre-Med and Government/ Pre-Law with a minor in Nonprofits. The people I had gone to high school with, who had told me I was too dumb to ever get into UT, suddenly realized that their close-minded outlook had affected their own future more than mine. While rushing for a sorority, I had felt a strong connection to one house in particular. Although all of the houses had great girls, there was one house that was A PHInominal one. There was no need to pretend to be something I was not. Just raw and unconditional love from Alpha Phi.
They embraced the fact that I compete through the Miss America Organization and wanted to know and learn more. They were the first people to cheer for me when I won Miss Austin and constantly ask how they can help support me in my endeavors towards Miss Texas. As I compete for Miss Texas this year for the second time, I know that their unconditional love and support is going to make all of the difference between when I stepped out on that stage in previous years, and when I do it in again at the end of June.
Rather than grieve over the fears I have around facing social isolation, I’ve decided that I’d rather place that energy into helping others who face discrimination and isolation every day, by creating a nonprofit foundation called “Friendship for All Abilities- Creating Inclusive Friendships”. The focus is to help kids with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities become involved inside of their community and create friendships. An idea I came up with thanks to the Miss America Program because being involved inside of my community through it was, and still is, a way for me to make friends.
I finally feel truly happy again, like the girl I was before the move. For my Alpha Phi sisters, how people viewed me in high school doesn’t matter. They love me for who I am and support what I do. Which is the only thing I could ever ask for from my sisters and want to give in return. It’s so cheesy but I wish that I could thank them every day for the love and joy that they have brought back into my life. They fill me with drive, help me to see the purpose in the work I am doing in school and towards Miss Texas, and add meaning to each day of my life. They boost my ego but also humble me. They lift me up when I’m down and help me to get out of my head when I’m having anxiety. They are always in attendance at every major event I have and are there ready to help the second I need it. Because of Alpha Phi, I know there are 60+ girls in my membership class alone that I could go to for whatever reason at any time.
I’d like to give a big thank you to my sisters who not only support and love me unconditionally but who do it for each other each and every day. We may not always recognize it or see it, but we know that the connection and love we have for each other is always there. Thank you to my sisters who help me to work towards my goal of becoming Miss Texas. Each and every one of you is my inspiration to help spread my message of inclusion. But most importantly, thank you Texas Alpha Phi for giving me my sisters who made me myself again.