The Princess Among Us

Phuc Pham | New University

Phuc Pham | New University

Anteaters, we are in the presence of royalty. UC Irvine’s very own Aimee Le, Miss Fountain Valley 2013, roams around our campus day in and day out. If you run into her, though, there is no need to bow. Aimee humbly accredits her success in the pageant to the multitude of lifelong skills learned and invaluable experiences encountered as a UCI student.

Bringing new meaning to the phrase “beauty and brains,” Aimee is a graduating senior studying neurobiology, one of the university’s most selective undergraduate majors. Aimee’s passion for the brain stemmed from the deep childhood bond she formed with her mentally disabled brother. She was intrigued by the neurological conditions that made him so  unique.

No matter how hectic life became, she always found time to watch his back, occasionally even defending him from schoolyard bullies. When college applications rolled around, Aimee intentionally applied to nearby campuses so that the two siblings’ companionship could remain intact.

It was at around this time that Aimee became interested in the Miss California scholarship pageant. Aimee’s decision to compete in the pageant was neither forced by her parents nor born out of vanity. Rather, being that participation in the pageant yields a large payout, it was a purely financial endeavor to support her college education without being cornered into working a part-time job that would consume potential study-time.

But Aimee’s involvement in the pageant burgeoned into something far more meaningful than just a source of financial aid. Aimee has participated in Miss Garden Grove and Fountain Valley pageants throughout college without winning until this year. But disappointed she wasn’t. In her own words, “I wasn’t in it to win it.” To Aimee, pageants are more about the speaking opportunities, the introductions to city officials and most importantly, the chance to lead volunteer efforts that raise awareness about community members with special needs.

Her novel platform urges young members of the community, in addition to the predominantly older, retired cohort, to volunteer their time to bonding with the mentally disabled. Her own personal volunteering resume ranges from fundraising for Special Olympic competitions within southern California to teaching martial arts and self-defense to mentally disabled kids.

“Disabled kids can teach you something about life and how we take for granted the simple things,” Aimee said.

In her eyes, she’s been winning the whole time, and her bid at the Miss California Pageant will be one more stab at her cause, but certainly not her last.

But championing her pageant platform isn’t just a phase of Aimee’s youth. She’s in it for life. As an aspiring physician, Aimee thinks that the doctor-patient relationship is crucial in practicing successful medicine. Furthermore, the better doctors empathize with and understand the mentally disabled as opposed to passing unfair judgments upon them, the more effective treatments will prove.

For Aimee, “our world will be better off if we just didn’t isolate people who are different.”

Despite her altruistic character, Aimee still doesn’t believe she could have achieved such levels of success without the tools UCI has given her. As a neurobiology major, Aimee participated in a year-long seminar course that ameliorated her articulacy and broke down social barriers.

She recounts, “the interactions among colleagues and faculty in small-sized classes taught me how to make connections, which was a crucial skill for the pageant and advocating my platform.” You should note that unlike the stereotypical pageant that is thought to be an all-out war for the best body, the pageant in which Aimee competes is a scholarship-based one that judges the well-roundedness of contestants. In other words, contenders not only have to be comfortable in their own skin, they need to be informed, open-minded global citizens.

What’s most inspiring to me about Aimee’s journey is how she maximized her college experience to not only improve herself but also the campus community.

During her term as president of UCI’s chapter of Nu Rho Psi, the national neuroscience honors society, Aimee and her board of officers, for the first time in the club’s history, lifted restrictions on joining the society in order to attract interested students of any major. Conforming to her platform of disability awareness, Aimee wanted to familiarize a diverse student demographic with current cutting-edge research into neurological disorders from faculty who are at the forefront of those fields.

It’s quite surreal that we have such heroes like Aimee Le walking among us on our college campus. It’s through people like Aimee and their successes that it becomes easy to genuinely value the education and opportunities that UCI gives us all.