A 21-year-old Laupahoehoe woman recently was crowned Miss Collegiate America in Little Rock, Ark.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Ronelle Valera, a 2017 graduate of Kamehameha Schools-Hawaii in Keaau.
Her journey to the title started in 2017 when she was a high school senior and competed for the title of Miss Hawaii Collegiate.
“I was the youngest one; I just went for it and I got first runner-up,” Valera said. “I felt really defeated after that because I got a lot of harsh critiques physically, so I ended up taking a break. I graduated high school and came to school in Portland.”
While attending Concordia University last year, she decided to get back into pageant competition and again entered the Miss Hawaii Collegiate pageant.
“I was kind of bored with my life; I needed to spice it up,” she said. “I had three leadership positions at my university, but that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to come back to pageants.”
Valera said she had grown a lot since her first competition.
“My resume grew, I grew. I was a totally new Ronelle,” she said. “I ended up coming home to run and I won, which was totally unexpected because I had taken such a long break.”
But as she prepared to return to college, she learned her school declared bankruptcy and shut down.
In order to compete at the national level, contestants needed to be enrolled in school, so the search for a university landed her at Warner Pacific University in Portland, Ore., where she will graduate in May with a major in social work.
The national pageant was supposed to take place in June, but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Then it happened … and was totally unexpected that I even placed top 16, and then top five. Then I got best in interview and then I won the whole thing!” she said, still in disbelief. “There was not a second that I thought I could win this. I’m from Laupahoehoe!”
The pageant was a week filled with many fun activities and excursions. Usually, contestants would get to bond with the other girls, but because of the pandemic they had to social distance.
The competition itself spanned three days that included interviews, a preliminary competition where everyone competed and on the final day only the top 16 competed.
Valera’s father, Roy, raised Ronelle as a single parent since she was 5 years old.
“I am just so proud of her,” said the elder Valera, who accompanied his daughter to the finals. “Just to see her accomplish this is amazing. She put her heart and soul in it.”
The pageant’s platform is BRAVE, which is an anti-bullying campaign. During the finals, Valera needed to answer the on-stage question: “What does BRAVE mean to you and what have you done to promote it?”
In her answer, Valera said that coming from an island in the middle of the ocean she needed to get creative in spreading the platform in the middle of a pandemic.
“So what did I do? I took to social media. I wanted to know that my voice coming all the way from the middle of the ocean was being heard,” she said, adding she also created a website named Kahanus Korner.
She talked about being bullied herself and how she would spread the message of respect for yourself and others.
She said the title of Miss Collegiate America is like a full-time job. She has about four or five trips planned to make appearances, meet with sponsors and photo shoots and also has a requirement of at least five appearances and community service events every month. All of this while still going to school and having a full-time internship.
After graduation she hopes to start her master’s degree, looking at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for postgraduate studies.
As Miss Collegiate America 2020 Valera will be awarded a new JL Jeep Wrangler Sport and $100,000 in scholarships, trips, wardrobe, travel, service and additional prizes.
Email Laura Ruminski at firstname.lastname@example.org.