|PHOTOGRAPHY BY FADIL BERISHA
GIVE THREE ADJECTIVES THAT YOUR FRIENDS WOULD DESCRIBE YOU.
I actually asked my two best friends and together they said - “Ambitious, Fearless, and Dynamic.” I am ambitious in that I work hard, stay focused, and stop at nothing to achieve my goals. I am fearless, in that I’m willing to take chances and full advantage of every opportunity put in front of me. For example, I once was given the opportunity to repel off of a 90-foot castle in Ireland. You can bet your bottom dollar, I did! Finally, I am dynamic - in that I am a very animated person, but I am also someone who is modest and humble. I am a go-getter, but I never forget my blessings.
IF YOU WERE TO COME BACK AS AN ANIMAL IN THE NEXT LIFE, WHAT WOULD YOU BE AND WHY?
I would want to come back as a dolphin! I’ve always had a fascination with water. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a lake outside my bedroom window. I love to go back to my hometown in the summers to go boating, swimming, and fishing with my family. Although the ocean terrifies me (I’m a lake gal) - I’m always willing to take on a new adventure, so I choose a dolphin!
CAN YOU LIVE WITHOUT DESIGNER SHOES? WHY OR WHY NOT?
I’ve never really been big into having designer-anything, to be honest. Growing up, I was always raised to not be materialistic, and rather to just be grateful for the things I do have. I personally would rather put my money towards something other than designer shoes. For example, I’d rather put the money towards buying my precious niece a new toy, or buying my mother flowers to show her how much I love her, or donating it to a local Humane Society to help animals in need. Although I do think it’s important to treat yourself once in a while, I’d personally rather spend my money to be meaningful in the lives of others, than the life of my own.
DO YOU THINK THAT "SEXUALITY EDUCATION" SHOULD BE PART OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM IN AMERICAN SCHOOLS?"
I believe sexuality education should be part of the school curriculum in American schools, but at an age that is appropriate and what age that is, I do not feel is clear yet. Without knowing the full content of the program that would be offered, it is hard for me to speak to its impact (positive or negative) on elementary age students. However, I do believe that sexuality education can find an appropriate place in middle school and high school. I also believe this could be supported by more open conversation as a whole in our country.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
I plan on finishing my education and receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree with concentrations in Legal Studies and Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin in the Spring of 2016. Upon graduation, I plan on starting a career in public relations, hopefully with an emphasis in the sports industry. I would like to eventually attend Law School, to further my education and public relations career.
While all of this is going on, my family is in the process of opening up another Culver’s restaurant franchise. Culver’s started in Wisconsin and is famous for their Butterburgers and rich custard. My goal is to help this operation get up and running, while making it a successful and sustainable business. I hope to always stay very involved in this family business.
Within the next five years, I also hope to continue to stay involved in my community - volunteering with the local Humane Society, staying connected with my friend, Carolyn, through Best Buddies (an organization that pairs those with physical and intellectual disabilities with a ‘buddy’), and helping fund girls in developing countries go to school through the She’s the First organization.
Finally, and most importantly to me, I hope to maintain the close relationships I have with my family - my parents, my brother, my sister and brother-in-law, and especially my niece and goddaughter, Tessa.
IS PHYSICAL APPEARANCE IMPORTANT? WHY OR WHY NOT?
I think physical appearance is important in-so-far that YOU, yourself, are comfortable with how you look. But this starts from within. I truly believe that if you feel good on the inside - confident, secure, happy, BEAUTIFUL - that these qualities, and this inner-beauty, will reflect on the outside. If you are comfortable with whom you are, and the person you are, then you’re beauty will show from both the inside and the outside.
IF YOU COULD GO ON A BLIND DATE WITH ANY MAN (OR WOMAN), WHOM WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?
I have this really ridiculous crush on Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. Not only is he a former Wisconsin Badger (I am currently a student at the University of Wisconsin), but through his social media posts, I believe that is a very genuine and generous person. He visits the Seattle Children’s Hospital every Tuesday (I love a man that gives back to his community) and he always posts pictures of his dogs - which means he is a dog person, just like me! So not only is Russell very handsome, but he’s a good person too! Definitely my dream date!
IF YOU HAD TO BE ANOTHER WOMAN FOR ONE WEEK, WHICH WOMAN WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BE AND WHY?
I would love to be Kate Middleton for a week. I personally would use the week to raid her closet, as I love her classy and elegant style; play with Prince George, as I love babies (I have a one-year-old niece who I adore); and to simply explore the royal castle/grounds, as I’m a huge nerd when it comes to history - I love it!
WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE THAT AMERICA FACES?
I think the greatest challenge America faces currently, is bipartisanship. In America, the two-party ideology is clearly not working. We can’t come to a compromise on anything, and representatives in both parties are pressured to stick together and to party lines. Once both the Republican and Democratic parties can find common ground and a way to work together, America will be a stronger nation. We need Congress to put bipartisan politics aside and focus on the American public’s best interests.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF ABOUT THE U.S.A.?
The U.S.A. is the land of opportunity and truly of the ‘American Dream.’ I have witnessed it firsthand - through my father. My father grew up in a family of 7 boys and 2 girls. With this many kids, needless to say, money was tight, so my father began working at a young age. He worked at a service gas station, and made just enough to get by. My father was able to attend college (we are so blessed for the educational opportunities we have in America) and worked hard to achieve a degree in Mechanical Engineering. My father practiced mechanical engineering for over 30 years, until deciding he wanted to pursue something different. This is what is so great about the American Dream - having the opportunities to pursue different careers and the freedom to take on new things. My dad decided to give up his mechanical engineering career, and purchased a franchise restaurant that’s popular in the Midwest - Culver’s! My dad has had great success with this business and is now in the process of opening up another one at a different location. My father’s story is an example of how America is truly the land of opportunity and how we, the American people, should be so grateful for the freedom of the choices we are provided with.
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT THE CORRELATION BETWEEN PORNOGRAPHY AND RAPE?
I would need to see data to suggest this correlation to form an opinion, but I do agree that we have an ever-present problem of violence against women in this country. I think that we, as a society, need to be more open about discussing this sensitive subject in order to solve it. Domestic violence is something that can be prevented, but it has to start with a conversation. I encourage anyone experiencing any violence to speak up and tell someone, because they are not alone.
DO YOU THINK THAT THERE SHOULD BE A CERTAIN AGE WHEN PEOPLE ARE FORCED TO RETIRE?
I don’t think there should be a certain age when people are forced to retire. I think that an individual should always have the choice to retire, but if a hard working man or woman wants to continue to work after a certain age, I don’t think we should stop them! I take my dad as an example (although I hope that he does one day retire, because he deserves it for how hard he’s worked his whole life), but he’s the type of individual who always wants to be doing something and growing as a person. So I always joke with him that he’ll never retire. I admire him for his hard work and contribution to the American economy.
VIRTUALLY ALL TERRORIST ATTACKS SINCE 9/11 HAVE BEEN COMMITTED BY MUSLIMS WHO JUSTIFY THEIR TERRORISM BY QUOTING VIOLENT ACTS FROM THE KORAN. THIS SUGGESTS THAT ISLAM MAY NOT BE A RELIGION OF PEACE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
I think it’s completely unfair to suggest this. I think that terrorists are terrorists, regardless of their religious ideology. Religion is a very personal matter, before it becomes an organizational one. Just because some terrorists choose to associate their religion with these horrible acts of violence, doesn’t suggest all Muslims are taught the Islamic religion in this way or that Islam isn’t a religion of peace.
PEOPLE SAY THAT MOST PAGEANT CONTESTANTS ARE RELIGIOUS. DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE?
I think this is a generalization and I don’t think it’s fair to generalize pageant contestants into any one broad category. Pageant contestants are one of the most diverse group of women you will ever meet. I do, howler, think that most pageant contestants have a great sense of spirituality.
WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF AN ETHICAL PERSON?
An ethical person is someone who has morals to the highest standards. They are honest, trustworthy, and always morally conscious of their decisions. Since we all make mistakes, for we are only human, an ethical person is also someone who recognizes his/her mistakes and finds a way to resolve them.
CAN A PERSON WHO WAS BORN A MALE, BUT WHO HAS A SEX REASSIGNMENT TO BECOME FEMALE, BE TRULY A FEMALE IN YOUR OPINION?
I think instead of focusing on the ‘2 opposite sexes’ model we have in our culture, we should just be accepting and respectful of others and their decisions to do what they want with their bodies.
WHAT WOULD A POTENTIAL EMPLOYER LEARN ABOUT YOU FROM REVIEWING YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK ACCOUNTS LIKE FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM OR TWITTER?
I’ll admit that I’m not the best about keeping everyone up-to-date with my life through social media, but a potential employer would definitely learn a thing or two about me through these accounts. First, they would learn that I’m absolutely in love with my one-year-old niece, Tessa, and enjoy spending time with her in my free time. Second, they would learn that I am very close with my family. And third, they would learn that I have a great love for my state as I post pictures of the beautiful architecture and nature present in both my hometown of Lake Mills, and my current city of Madison.
WHAT HAVE YOU GAINED BY COMPETING IN PAGEANTS?
I have gained a brand-new mindset, topped off with professional and personal skills I will carry on for my lifetime. Before competing in pageants, and also as a result from growing up in a small Midwestern town, I was pretty closed off to all the world had to offer. I wanted more, and I wanted to experience something new and totally different than anything I’d every done before. I started competing in pageants when I was a freshman in high school, and after my first competition, I was hooked. I met so many amazing new people, learned about the importance of poise and presentation, and was given the chance to practice public speaking, which I have such a passion for. But what I loved most about every time I competed, is that it opened up my mind to endless possibilities and really gave me a brand-new open mindset of ‘the sky is the limit.’ Pageants have taught me about how hard work and focus can lead to accomplishing big dreams.
SOME STATES STILL PRACTICE THE DEATH PENALTY AS PUNISHMENT FOR HORRENDOUS CRIMES. DO YOU THINK THAT IT SHOULD BE ABOLISHED? WHY OR WHY NOT?
I do believe that the death penalty should be abolished. As a legal studies major, I have learned extensively about this topic in my classes at the University of Wisconsin. Research shows that the death penalty is NOT a good deterrent when it comes to crime, and it actually costs more to put someone on death row, than it does to imprison them for life. Many people are usually startled by that latter statement, but most people on death row appeal - most of the time, multiple times - and this raises court costs, lawyer costs, and administrative costs. Not to mention, the lethal injection used nowadays for the death penalty, is expensive itself - to manufacture and deliver. Another problem with the death penalty is that the court does make mistakes, and people are wrongfully convicted. I think there are other more effective ways to punish someone for their heinous crimes, such as life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
COMPARED TO THE 1950s-1970s, WOMEN TODAY HAVE MORE OPTIONS IN TERMS OF THEIR PERSONAL CHOICES AND PERSONAL LIVES. DESPITE THESE OPTIONS, WHY DO YOU STILL WANT TO BE MISS USA?
I personally find the job of Miss USA to be one of the most prestigious options out there for women, even still today. Miss USA is someone who is relatable, yet inspiring. She is goal-oriented, intelligent, and motivated. Her duties require her to convey those characteristics and more in her everyday life, while also seeking to improve the lives of others. “To do more for the world than the world than the world does for you, that is success.” (Henry Ford)
I want to be the next Miss USA, because I believe I have what it takes to be the selfless and passionate leader the job requires.
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Thank you, Haley, for granting us this interview