Miss Washington Teen USA spreads awareness on domestic violence

Maureen Francisco November 15, 2014 0
Priya Gopal-Walker, 16, is a junior at Seattle Academy. • Photo by Jerry and Lois Photography

Priya Gopal-Walker, 16, is a junior at Seattle Academy. • Photo by Jerry and Lois Photography

Forty contestants, two days of competition, and then the final two.

On Sunday, October 19, at Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien: Priya Gopal-Walker, 16, from Seattle and Taylor DiLeonardo, 17, from Covington found themselves holding hands, waiting for the emcee to call out the winner of the 2015 Miss Washington Teen USA title. Someone’s life was about to change.

Gopal-Walker, who is half Native American Indian and half Eastern Indian, doesn’t remember much. The Seattle Academy junior does remember asking DiLeonardo, “Did I win?”

DiLeonardo replied back, “Yes! Congratulations!”

Gopal-Walker said she felt overwhelmed with emotions at the realization that her hard work had actually paid off. After competing in pageants since she was in pre-school, this was the title she had her eyes on for years.

“This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime and I cannot wait to see what I can do to be the best possible Miss Washington Teen USA,” Gopal-Walker said.

The moment after she was crowned, Gopal-Walker got to work filling out paperwork from Donald J Trump & NBCUniversal, the partnership that owns the pageant. Still in disbelief, Gopal-Walker slept wearing her crown and sash. “I never want to take it off,” she said.

Priya Gopal-Walker. • Photo by Jerry and Lois Photography

Priya Gopal-Walker. • Photo by Jerry and Lois Photography

For Gopal-Walker, the journey to the crown involved overcoming hardships and going through a healing process. She was originally going to compete in 2012. However, she had to pull out of the competition due to physical and emotional abuse.

“I knew I needed time to emotionally heal from what I had gone through,” Gopal-Walker said. “I now live with foster parents who love me as though I am their own. Taking the time to get my life restored, I believe, is part of the reason I won this year. I have a strong message of hope for those children who may feel there is no hope or way to get out of their fearful situation.”

Gopal-Walker would like to use her title to talk about her platform, which is to spread awareness on domestic violence by going to schools and encouraging young people to speak up.

Gopal-Walker said: “I learned that schools are required to report to Child Protective Services if abuse is reported. Do not give up and do not stop asking for help until you have received it. I recommend that if you are a student, tell your principal, teachers, school counselors, and trusted family members. Tell your friends and have them come with you. I know how scary it can be to tell someone, but you will become empowered with the help of others. If you are an adult, find someone (friend, family, coworker, doctor) who can help you make a safety and exit plan. Life may seem bad now, but if you seek help and find your voice, you can accomplish anything. Once you are safe, you can finally begin to dream again! Dreams can come true and I am an example of that.”

Aside from speaking about her platform, Gopal-Walker also hopes to get opportunities to perform Bollywood dance, which she’s been practicing since she was four years old.

In addition, Gopal-Walker will be making lots of appearances. For starters, she’ll be helping out at a charity event in November hosted by Rick Rizz, the voice of the Mariners.

Here are some other fun facts about Gopal-Walker:

• She is absolutely in love with cupcakes. There’s a cupcake shop right next to her school and she goes there almost every week.

• She is a bit obsessed with Pirates of the Caribbean. She has a trivia app on her phone and She’s ranked number two in the world in Pirates of the Caribbean trivia. She said she might even know more than Johnny Depp.

• She has only had 6 haircuts in her life because she loves having long hair!”

Gopal-Walker will be competing for the title of Miss Teen in the summer of 2015. For more information about Miss Washington Teen USA, visit misswashingtonusa.com.

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