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Guest Post: January 2020! (A little delayed)

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over and a shiny new year is upon us. Like most, I welcomed this new beginning with open arms and have set my 20/20 vision on some exciting new goals. But even as I settle back into my routine, I find my mind still lingering upon one of the greatest adventures I have undertaken yet. I must have been especially nice last year because I received the most incredible gift I could have asked for: the opportunity to represent the state of Oregon in the Miss America competition.

What started back in 1921 as a bathing suit competition has now evolved into a scholarship program that provides opportunities for personal growth and professional development for women across the country. With the elimination of the swimsuit and evening gown phases of competition and the addition of the social impact pitch competition, Miss America 2.0 showcased candidates’ achievements and abilities as opposed to their appearance. As the first “Miss Oregon 2.0,” navigating this new format was truly a challenge. Unlike local and state competitions, where a candidate is eligible to compete annually until she exceeds the age limitation, you only get one shot at Miss America. Naturally, you want everything to be perfect. In my months of preparation for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, rife with poor communication from the Miss America Organization and a lack of transparency with regards to the expectations of the job of Miss America 2.0 and how she was to be selected, there were many times when I questioned my own worth and whether I even deserved to step foot on a stage of this caliber. After all, it took me four attempts to earn the job of Miss Oregon. I was not—am not—perfect. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over my four years as a titleholder in the Miss America Organization, it’s that the most beautiful stories are ones of perseverance, not perfection. I learned that from our Miracle Kids; I learned that from Brody Miller.

In his thirteen years of life, Brody has endured thirteen brain surgeries and countless other medical procedures as the result of a rare brain condition that prompts his body to constantly generate new arteries, resulting in excessive pressure on his brain. The official diagnosis is “complex dural arteriovenous fistula,” but this far from perfect medical situation doesn’t stop Brody. A superhero aficionado, he channeled his perseverance into “Generator Man,” his very own superhero persona to fight against a condition that, frankly, sounds like the scariest villain I have ever heard of. I’ve learned a lot about superheroes since meeting Brody early last year. While all superheroes have superpowers, it is how they use those powers to help others that make us consider them heroes. In other words, the “super” is given, but the “hero” is earned. Though he didn’t ask for the ability to regenerate arteries, Brody chooses to be a hero by sharing his story, advocating for his fellow Miracle Kids, and volunteering his time at Children’s Miracle Network events across the state.

My story is one of perseverance, not perfection. After struggling with math for years in high school and failing my first college calculus course, it was my perseverance that led me to earn my B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Oregon State University in 2018. After placing as a nonfinalist during my first year at Miss Oregon, it was my perseverance that led me to earn the title last summer. And after hearing my mother be told that she needed to “dress like an American” when she wore Indian

clothing in public when we had first immigrated to the United States, it was my perseverance that led me to the Miss America stage last month, where I wore an Indian-inspired gown for my talent—as a reminder that that is how some Americans dress. Ultimately, it was through my perseverance that I found my purpose. As a STEM advocate and working chemical engineer, I have spent the last six years creating STEM outreach opportunities for young girls in Oregon, through organizations like Women in Science PDX, in an effort to be the person I needed when I was younger. While my Miss America experience wasn’t perfect, I am proud that I was able to share that mission with America, and am even more excited to be home to expand that work in Oregon.

Recently, Brody and I were able to tour the Portland International Airport, thanks to our friends at Delta Air Lines and their commitment to creating more STEM programming for our Miracle Kids,

such as the Delta Air Lines STEM cart. Modeled after an airline service cart, the Delta Air Lines STEM cart is filled with science and engineering activities available to patients. We have some exciting ideas we are working on to expand this program. Working alongside Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Miracle Kids like Brody has been a highlight in my year as Miss Oregon—and it was an absolute privilege to share more about those experiences at Miss America, both onstage during preliminary competition in my social impact pitch as well as with the judges during my private interview.

During that tour of Portland International Airport with Delta Air Lines, I had asked Brody what my superhero name would be, as one of his superpowers is identifying other peoples’ superhero personas. He said that he would need to think about it. When he came with his family to my Miss America sendoff party a few weeks later, he told me he had figured out who I was: Princess Fierce. While I wasn’t selected to serve as Miss America, I truly feel that I was selected for a job that is just as special. I remain unspeakably grateful to continue to serve as Miss Oregon—imperfectly, yet fiercely.


You can follow along with Shivali and all of her amazing adventures as Miss Oregon 2019 on Instagram at: @missamericaor

To learn more about the Miss America Organization and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals partnership, click here