MANILA, Philippines – Fifty-one ladies competed for the Miss USA crown on Sunday, May 14, and among them was Philippine-born Raquel Wellentin, who represented North Dakota.
Raquel, 24, is an aspiring Health and Physical Education teacher, who missed her own graduation day to compete in the pageant.
Coronation night, however, was the end of Raquel’s journey to Miss Universe 2017. Deshauna Barber crowned Miss District of Columbia Kara McCullough, who will compete against the Philippines’ Rachel Peters for the Miss Universe 2017 title.
Raquel may not have won the pageant, but she’s won the hearts of her supporters both abroad and in the Philippines.
Read on to get to know the Filipino-American who walked the Miss USA 2017 stage!
1. Tearing her meniscus and ACL led her to compete in the Miss USA pageant.
Raquel may have moved to the US when she was two years old, but like many Filipinos, she grew up watching pageants. Raquel told Rappler that she would watch the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants on TV when she was little. “I wanted to be up on that stage as a little child, but I didn’t think I was good enough based on stereotypes. Since then, I focused on my sports and my education,” she said.
She planned on playing volleyball in college, but tore her meniscus and ACL in her senior year of high school. She said: “While I was at home recovering from my surgery, Miss Universe was on television and that’s when I decided that I wanted to compete in the Miss Universe Organization.”
2. She’s the first in her family to receive a college degree.
Raquel went to North Dakota State University to become a Health and Physical Education teacher.
“I am a first generation immigrant and am proud to also be the first in my family who received a college degree,” Raquel told Rappler through email, days before the Miss USA pageant. “Instead of being back home in Fargo, North Dakota walking across the graduation stage, I am here at Miss USA chasing after another one of my American dreams.”
3. One of Raquel’s advocacies is education and she’s a strong believer in after-school programs.
Because she dreams of becoming a teacher, it’s no surprise that Raquel is passionate about education. She volunteers regularly for the Study Buddies program of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
“This program promotes enhancing children’s education outside of school walls while helping their mothers pursue their dreams,” she explained to Rappler. “I do want to start a similar program in the Philippines to help mothers and to increase education in my birth country.”
4. She’s one of the 5 immigrants who competed in the Miss USA 2017 pageant.
The other immigrants who competed in Miss USA this year were Miss Florida Linnette de los Santos who was born in the Dominican Republic, Miss Hawaii Julie Kuo who was born in Taiwan, Miss Connecticut Olga Litvinenko who was born in Ukraine, and Miss New Jersey Chhavi Verg who was born in India.
Miss USA, along with Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe, were previously owned by NBC and US President Donald Trump, whose comments against illegal immigrants during the US presidential campaign caused NBC to cut ties with him. In turn, Trump bought NBC’s share and sold the whole company to its current owners WME|IMG.
For Raquel, being an immigrant discouraged her from competing in pageants when she was young. “While I was growing up, I didn’t think I was good enough to compete because of stereotypes,” she said.
“I was told all the girls are tall, skinny, and have an ‘American’ look. I was timid to compete, but then I realized that our country is so diverse, that there are a lot of ‘American’ looks. You don’t need to be tall or skinny to be up on this stage. You need to be yourself and embrace your flaws, because that’s what makes you uniquely beautiful.”
5. Like many Filipino beauty queens, Raquel looks up to Pia Wurtzbach.
On Pia, Raquel said: “My beauty queen idol is Pia Wurtzbach because she’s a Filipina who has confidence within her. She impacted so many lives just by being herself and showing that being natural is beautiful.”
6. She had a hard time with receiving negative comments at the pageant, but tried to use them to her advantage instead.
“The hardest part about competing in pageants is hearing negative comments from others. I have tough skin so the comments don’t affect me that much, but a person can only take so much,” Raquel told Rappler.
“I keep reminding myself to take these comments and use them as motivation to continue working hard. This will carry on into my life long after being Miss North Dakota USA. I believe that’s the best part of being part of the Miss Universe Organization.”
7. She’s not writing off competing in pageants in the Philippines in the future.
“I never thought about [competing in the Philippines] until one of the state contestants told me about it yesterday,” she said in her email to Rappler. “It intrigued me and I might consider it in the future.”
Were you cheering for Raquel to win Miss USA 2017? Share your messages for her in the comments below! – Rappler.com