Interview with Miss Hawaii USA 2013 Brianna Acosta: America’s most inspiring new leader

Danny de Gracia interviews the incredible Brianna Acosta for a Hawaii perspective on what matters most. Photo: Brianna Acosta / Photo by Fadil Berisha

HONOLULU, December 11, 2012 – The sunrise of a new generation of leaders and role models full of courage, passion and a drive to overcome all odds has dawned in America. In the Fiftieth State, one young woman of incredible character who is turning heads and making waves is Brianna Acosta, winner of the 2013 Miss Hawaii USA pageant and a senior at the University of Hawaii studying journalism and political science.

Surrounded by a luminous je ne sais quoi aura of intellect, beauty, humble yet sophisticated elegance and a bounding intrepidity that refuses to accept circumstances as final, Ms. Acosta is perhaps one of the most outstanding women in Hawaii today and truly a rising star to follow.

I had the chance this week to interview Ms. Acosta for her thoughts on pageantry, national politics and the future of young people amidst the fiscal cliff crisis, and I was deeply impressed by the uncommon quality of her outlook on life. (Not to mention as a political scientist, it’s always good to meet a kindred spirit.)

Having pursued the title of Miss Hawaii USA since age 14 and braving disappointment with an attitude that every experience is a stepping stone to victory, Ms. Acosta shares valuable insights in our interview  that all of us, young and old can learn from. Here now is a transcript, with light edits.

Danny de Gracia: Brianna, tell us a little bit about yourself. What does it feel like being the 2013 Miss Hawaii USA and how did you get into pageantry?

Brianna Acosta: It feels great! It’s always been a dream of mine to be Miss Universe since I was a little girl. I’d always watched the pageants with my mom on TV and so I decided I was going to run for Miss Hawaii USA when I was 14. So I went to the director’s office, made an appointment and showed up, age 14, braces and all, and went over them what I needed to do. I started by participating in the Miss Hawaii Teen USA pageant and I ran that from age 14 to 17 – three years. I was fourth runner up the first year and the first runner up twice in a row, the last two years.

DDG: Wow.

Acosta: And then I told myself after that experience – it was really mostly for the experience – and although of course I would have loved to win, I really am actually happy that I didn’t because it gave me the supporters and the backing that I needed to go into Miss Hawaii USA with full force. So after those three years I took a break for a few years and just prepared, tried to gather sponsors, really, I just didn’t want to leave any stone left unturned for Miss Hawaii USA.

I told myself I would run when I was 21 so turned 21 right – actually it’s supposed to be  before the pageant but they changed the date and I actually turned 21 three days after the pageant but I just wanted to make sure I was 21 by the national, so I just went into it full force and it paid off, but it was a full seven years of preparation so it really feels amazing, it kind of feels I’m still competing because it happened so quickly and when you’re preparing for something for so long it kind of feels surreal that you achieve it, but it feels amazing.

DDG: So you were driven from the very beginning, huh? (Laughs)

Acosta: Yes! (Laughs) From the beginning!

DDG: That’s great, congratulations–

Acosta: Thank you.

DDG:  That’s a story that, you know, a lot of people get discouraged when they’re not able to succeed the first time but you obviously had to put up with a lot of eating humble pie I guess you could say to make it!

Acosta: Yeah!

DDG: So I understand you’re studying journalism and political science at the University of Hawaii, is that correct?

Acosta: Yes, I’m a senior, I’ll be graduating this May and my major is journalism and my minor is political science.

DDG: That’s awesome. I actually have (laughs) all of my degrees are in political science so it’s great to meet a fellow colleague. So are you thinking of getting into elected politics someday? Is that something you might consider?

Acosta: Well, I don’t know about politics, I was contemplating going to law school, probably not immediately after college until hopefully I’m Miss USA but I would like to go to law school. I’d be more so to pursue a journalism career and feel more adequate to report hard news stories as well than you know, the average reporter’s repertoire. I wouldn’t mind actually working in foreign affairs.

DDG: Oh that’s perfect.

Acosta: Probably wouldn’t go into politics, but I could see myself working in a U.S. embassy.

DDG: So this is a very interesting time to be studying political science. What are some of the issues or the topics that you guys are talking about in your classes right now?

Acosta: Well I actually finished my political science minor last year so I didn’t get to do all of the fun elections stuff that happened in 2012. But I think definitely with the pageant there was some long questions in the interview on the election. Of course, with it being an election year it was a little hard to get media coverage because a lot of the news outlets were covering the election, so–

DDG: Well we didn’t forget you! (Laughs)

Acosta: Yeah! (Laughs) Eventually they come around but I would just say as far as the presidential election goes, it was I think one of the closest I’d ever seen with Obama winning re-election, so you know I would say as far as voting goes, I think people really need to get out there and vote. It really goes to show how each vote does count, so I think people need to be very conscious about that.

DDG: Definitely. You know a lot of people in Washington right now are talking about the fiscal cliff and the impact on people like yourself, people about to graduate from college. What’s your thoughts on all this?

Acosta: Oh I know, especially living in Hawaii with real estate prices going up and up and everything of that sort I do fear, you know, because I would love to raise my children and family in Hawaii but I fear I wouldn’t be able to afford that type of life. And everyone’s always talking about how it’s so difficult to get a job I think from my personal self, I just take advantage of every opportunity that’s given to us as students that can lead us to a job in the future.

So I’ve done internships and you know, especially through Miss Hawaii USA we have a lot of opportunities as far as the world of communications and journalism goes. I’ve been trying to hold on to whatever I can but I do think that it always will be more difficult for us young people to get out there, but I just think if you really want something with hard work and determination your goals can be achieved. So that’s my viewpoint.

DDG: You mentioned internships. If you were ever offered an internship with the Department of State or Congress would you ever accept something like that?

Acosta: I may. I did look into a couple of political science internships when I was still continuing my minor before I finished it. But it’s not necessarily something I would want to go into career-wise. I’m more so towards the journalism internships and public relations and social media because it’s so big in today’s society.

DDG: That’s definitely true, in fact a lot of elections now put a heavy emphasis on social media, in fact several elections were won entirely by social media! If you can imagine that so–

Acosta: Mmm-hmm.

DDG: …so that’s definitely a good thing to look at. So what would be your advice, having won, for young women who want to get involved in pageantry?

Acosta: My advice first of all would be to make sure it’s something that you really want. Throughout my pageant experience you know, seven years, I would meet girls who would honestly tell me that they were only running because of their parents or because of an outside source, or because they want a crown and a big title, so I would say if you’re actually going to do a pageant, make sure that your values coincide with that organization and that you truly want to represent them and that it’s something that’s truly a dream or goal of yours.

The root of all strength comes from your personal determination and I would say always give it your all, never half of yourself because it’s … you know, on a different night, on a different set of judges it could have been another girl and I might not have won but only thing that you can do is put your best self forward and be prepared for the job. It really is a job when you think about it since you’re going to be representing an entire state, Hawaii in particular much more so because we were a former country, so you’re going to be attracting attention from the entire international community – Japan, China – much more so than a continental United States title holder so I think you have to put your full self out there.

DDG: That’s good advice. Speaking of representing one’s state, a lot of our readers have never been to Hawaii before. How would you describe it to someone who has never been here before? What do you like most about Hawaii?

Acosta: Well, of course it is a paradise, but what I would recommend for visitors to really take from a Hawaii visit would be for them to immerse themselves in the cultural history as well as the renaissance history as far as the monarchy and the kingdom. That’s something that people don’t realize when they think of Hawaii, now they think of it being a state but there’s so much culture and history from it being a former country. Definitely people should stop by Iolani Palace.

Growing up in Hawaii, I think it’s best to raise kids because we hear a lot about it being a cultural melting pot which is so true but I think more so, growing up in Hawaii really humbled me because especially myself being from Waialua which is a plantation town and in some ways poverty stricken but it’s close knit and small.

From a young age I had this yearning for wanting more and for seeing what else was out there and I think that it’s something that children complain about like not having some the resources that the mainland and continental United States have but I think that’s something to be thankful for because that yearning is what really drives and gives motivation, so I would say that’s my favorite part about Hawaii: just knowing that there is more out there and having the strong and humble foundation to pursue it.

DDG: You definitely have a very inspiring story, you’re an all-American role model there. Overcoming a lot! That’s incredible!

Acosta: Well thank you.

DDG: So let’s talk a little bit about fashion. How would you describe your personal style?

Acosta: My personal style I would say is a modest sensuality with a feminine touch. I personally as far as dressing and choosing my Miss Hawaii USA wardrobe, of course, I want my values to represent the organization as well and Miss USA and Miss Universe are relevant young women who are, um, I would say [not so very conservative as in the Miss America] system but relevant, they’re young, fresh, they have a sexy appeal, but never crossing the line too much. So I think because I do represent the organization it’s something that I’ve always had in myself, my personal values are a little more girly, but I would say modest sensuality. Classy is always better than trashy.

DDG: No that’s good advice. But you know a lot of our female readers would probably want to ask you what you secret to looking great and being beautiful is.

“I think it goes to show that you need to listen to what your personal body image is rather than conform to someone else’s because it’s not gonna show well you’re trying to be a mold.” -Brianna Acosta (Photo by Mark Ramelb)

Acosta: My secret is something that I still struggle with that I really learned in the Miss Hawaii USA is to not compare yourself to others. Especially when we’re talking about fitness and how you look in a swimsuit. When I was preparing for Miss Hawaii USA I had a trainer who asked what my vision was and I was, my problem was I was showing him pictures of other girl’s bodies and say this is how I want to be and in reality every woman’s body is different and you need to be yourself, not try to be someone else.

So before the pageant I personally was thinking I needed to be thinner but my trainer was telling me, “No, for your body type this is perfect” even though, of course I was confident, but a bit uneasy about the swimsuit portion. I ended up winning best in swimsuit, so I think it goes to show that you need to listen to what your personal body image is rather than conform to someone else’s because it’s not gonna show well if you’re trying to be someone else’s mold. You need to be who you are and bring out your best self.

DDG: So basically then beauty pretty much is something that’s about achieving your personal max? So it’s not so much what someone else looks like but achieving what the ultimate capability is for your individual self.

Acosta: Yes, definitely, and like I said before, if it was a different set of judges it could have been a different girl [who won] because in reality it is all personal preference. You have to be willing to be judged by others, so you really can’t go in saying “Oh, I need to be the most beautiful or the most this” you just need to be sure that you’re comfortable with yourself and you’re reaching your full capacity.

DDG: Well speaking of personal preferences, is there a favorite color you like to dress in?

Acosta: For evening gown I personally choose white and I do the same thing for my interview attire. I do like to be a little bit more fun but primarily why I choose it for interviews is because for Miss Hawaii USA we only have five minutes to speak to the judges and that’s not a lot of time for someone to get know you. So for me personally I feel that wearing something distracting from my personality isn’t going to help me so I always try to dress classy and in white so that the focal point is on my face and what I’m saying rather than what I’m wearing.

DDG: Awesome, awesome. White is actually my favorite color. So do you the kind of girl that prefer diamonds or pearls? Which do you think looks better?

Acosta: (Laughs) My evening gown had crystals and pearls so I would say you gotta mix it up a bit. I wouldn’t take sides on that one!

DDG: So you like both! The best of both worlds!

Acosta: Yeah!

DDG: Okay. So are you an Android, an iPhone or a BlackBerry kind of girl?

Acosta: Right now I’m an Android, I’m debating maybe going to the iPhone but I really, about the Android I like the user-friendly aspect of it and the bigger keyboard. I currently have an EVO 4G.

DDG: Yeah, I recently switched to the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 myself.

Acosta: Oh!

DDG: And the screen is so big, but man it’s hard to use. I was using the iPhone 4S before, and some people think the Apple operating system is simple or whatever but when I switched to the Android it was like, “Wow, this is really hard to use.” (Laughs)

Acosta: Yeah! (Laughs)

DDG: So last question – with Christmas just around the corner, is there a holiday message that you’d like to share with the people around the nation?

Acosta: I would say that truly, just remember what Christmas is about. I know in today’s society we’re constantly in a battle between religious affiliation and I think people need to look past the history of the holiday and what it really represents.

Recently, Miss Hawaii USA had a Christmas party and we had a raffle-type thing and instead of winning prizes we picked a card and would read the donation that your prize money went to support. So I think, just remember that this is a season of giving and that doesn’t necessarily have to be material things but giving of yourself and kindness and in any positive way.

We greatly appreciate the opportunity to interview Ms. Acosta.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

More from Making Waves: A Hawaii Perspective on Washington Politics
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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

Contact Danny de Gracia


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