Photo by Goodwin Photography
It’s no secret that Southern Virginia alumna Rebekah Pence is this year’s Ms. Virginia United States, especially since this article about her experiences in the pageant enjoyed a nice stay on the front page of deseretnews.com. Last month, she also participated in the national Ms. United States pageant.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Bekah and talk to her about not only the pageant but the experiences she had as an undergraduate at Southern Virginia, what she’s done since then, and her hopes for the future.
Q: First of all, could you tell me a bit about your experiences as a student at Southern Virginia?
Bekah: I absolutely loved it. I think for my personality I needed the smaller classroom sizes and the one-on-one attention, so I really benefited from that. And I loved how I felt like I could just contribute, and I really enjoyed that. I was a music major and eventually switched over to family and child development. I think one of the professors who really affected me was for sure Professor Rodriguez. He is over family and child development first of all, but he’s been very patient and I love his teaching. I got a lot out of his classes. He’s very fun, but he knows what he’s talking about.
Q: Do you have a have favorite class that you can remember?
Bekah: Man. Actually, all of the FCD [family and child development] classes are amazing, but the men and families or even marriage and families classes [were my favorite]. I love that because I eat that stuff up.
Q: What was the most rewarding part of your life as an undergraduate?
Bekah: I think it was just the type of education and the people that I’ve met here. I love how Southern Virginia focuses on being a leader-servant, and I had a lot of opportunities to try to do that and implement that in my time at Southern Virginia. That’s just something that I really enjoyed because I love helping people and I love just being around people. I kind of feed off of that. I felt very fulfilled.
Q: You’re currently working at the Blue Ridge Autism Achievement Center. What led you there and how does your training and education prepare you to tackle the work that you do?
Bekah: Well, since I’ve graduated I lived out West for a couple years, I served a mission, and I got back this past October. And then when I got home, I actually was thinking about moving back out West, but I felt impressed to kind of look for jobs [here]. It was actually my sister Taerra, she works here at Southern Virginia, [who showed me that] BRAAC — the Blue Ridge Autism Achievement Center — sent out an email saying to any students, but especially FCD students, to let them know that there were full-time positions open and maybe other opportunities to volunteer. I jumped on the opportunity. I walked in and talked to my boss, and she let me come in just a couple weeks. It really just kind of fell in my lap, it was such a blessing. I didn’t know that I’d love working with autistic children so much. Honestly, that’s been a really cool experience.
Q: What is your position at BRAAC?
Bekah: I’m a behavior technician/therapist. We work one-on-one with the children. We’re in teams, so technically I work with four children specifically, but every day I get to work one-on-one with a child. We are able to keep track of their progress to help them. Because autistic children are brilliant — they really are — we’re trying to help them function in an everyday world.
Q: Having graduated, found work that you love, and recently served a mission, it’s probably safe to say that your perspective on many things has changed. How do you feel you have grown since you left Southern Virginia?
Bekah: Just so much. So very much. I feel that my experiences at Southern Virginia really helped me. They gave me a foundation and helped me know how to grow and learn so much better and faster, and to know in the real world how I can apply the things that I’ve learned. I’ve had a ton of different, very unique experiences since I left Southern Virginia. I’d never lived on the West Coast, so after I graduated from Southern Virginia and moved out there, the experiences that I had here at Southern Virginia helped me greatly. The jobs that I was able to find and also the people that I was able to meet and other opportunities helped me grow, but I think that was because my time here at Southern Virginia helped me grow so much.
Q: What led you to pursue the title of Ms. Virginia United States?
Bekah: Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be in pageants because my mom was in pageants. But as I got older there were a lot of different reasons I could never make it happen, and I decided not to and kind of put it out of my mind. And I thought I was too old. Most pageants, once you’re older than 26, it just doesn’t happen. So when I got home from my mission, [an ad for the pageant] popped up [online] several times, so I went ahead and clicked on it. It said that there was a division, the “Ms. Division,” for [women ages] 26 to 39. I was baffled that they had a division that was old enough that I could be a part of it. … I’m so grateful that I did it. … For me personally it’s just been an amazing experience to reaffirm for me what my values are and that I can do hard things.
Q: Can you tell me a little about what the pageant experience was like? What was the “behind the scenes” experience?
Bekah: Just know that I am not a pageant girl. A lot of opportunities came up because I wanted to be modest. When I was backstage, for example, in my one-piece swimsuit. Before I went onstage, the girls just turned around and I felt like they were thinking, “What is this girl thinking? There’s no way she’s going to win with a one piece.” Some girls actually said, “Oh my gosh. I almost thought about wearing a one piece!” But I was able to talk to a couple girls about how I just like to dress modestly and more conservatively. It was cool. It was little experiences like that where I was able to either talk about what I was wearing, or when people would tell me how happy they saw that I was. I felt like I could basically share my testimony of why I choose to make those decisions. As we’re just trying to do our best to live the gospel and literally be a light, I guess like Heavenly Father asks us to, people see that. They can’t not see it. I’ve had a lot of cool experiences, and I’ve been affected positively by the women that I’ve been able to meet as well. I just think there’s a lot of give and take that I’ve had from the pageant.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing that’s come about from your experience with the pageant?
Bekah: What I actually want to do with my life is seminars, or musical firesides. I write and compose music, and I want to share my testimony through music with youth. [I feel like the pageant will] aid me in doing the work that I really feel like I am supposed to do.
Q: Is there any advice you’d like to give current Southern Virginia students?
Bekah: Honestly, it would just be on a spiritual note, or spiritual perspective, because my experience at Southern Virginia was very led by the Spirit. All I can say is that it is all about the Spirit and being led by it, even education. Heavenly Father asks us to get an education, but to do His work. Because I feel like I’ve had this opportunity to help Heavenly Father maybe in some way do his work, I would just say to them: Be open to the Spirit, work hard, educate yourself — actually be educated while you’re here getting an education. Choose to learn and to work hard so that afterward you can use the education that you received to build up the kingdom [of God].
(Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16.)