More than just their looks
That the Philippines is a pageant-obsessed country is an understatement as proven once again during the recently concluded Miss Universe 2023 competition held in San Salvador in El Salvador on Nov. 18 (Nov. 19 in the Philippines).
By noon that day, social media platforms were filled with disgruntled memes and strongly worded comments after our country’s bet, Miss Universe Philippines 2023 Michelle Marquez Dee, failed to advance as one of the Top 5 semifinalists. Despite her strong showing during the preliminary competition, her recognition as one of three queens with exemplary advocacies, and her stunning black gown inspired by precolonial tattoos, Michelle’s journey to the Miss Universe crown came to an abrupt end when her name was not called for the final five.
It’s interesting to note that aside from her longtime advocacy for children on the autism spectrum, the fact that she is a proud college graduate who took an online course in Harvard was mentioned, not once but twice, during the course of the pageant.
For Michelle, a good education is worth the time and investment.
It’s something her pageant sisters— Miss Universe Philippines 2020 Rabiya Mateo, Miss Universe Philippines 2021 Bea Luigi Gomez, Miss Universe Philippines 2022 Celeste Cortesi and Miss Intercontinental 2021 Cindy Obeñita—all wholeheartedly share.
Rabiya who is now a model/host, entrepreneur and Sparkle talent said her decision to take up Physical Therapy (PT) at Iloilo Doctors’ College was a practical one. She was well aware of the opportunities open to her if she opted to try her luck abroad.
“I knew the opportunities that would be available to me, especially in the United States. There’s also a cute background story: My mom was taking up PT when she got pregnant [and had to stop], so I really wanted to continue her dreams for her,” Rabiya said.
As a student, the dusky beauty admitted to being super competitive. “I always wanted to be on top of the game, at the top of the class. I would join every extracurricular activity at the same time because I really wanted to excel. I enjoyed studying. [Studying] gave me the happy hormone to know things, to know the human body, to spend time reading up on this medical course. Actually now, at this moment in my life, I miss studying!”
One particular memory that stands out for her was when she gave a speech on behalf of the graduates to the entire school, and likened it to a queen’s “crowning moment” because she was also able to pay tribute to her mother, who is a single parent.
“Seeing other students as well as their parents getting emotional while listening to my speech made me feel like I had done a good job,” Rabiya said.
She said her medical background has helped in her daily life because it taught her to be patient and disciplined. “You need to have a routine and you need to stick to that routine for you to see great changes in your life. When I was in college, I studied every night—even on weekends. As a pageant contestant, I trained my body and for my Q&A. I needed to be focused, so it was something that I was able to use as an aspiring beauty queen.”
Rabiya admitted it hasn’t always been easy dealing with people and their egos as a celebrity in the public eye. “The good thing is I was exposed to different people when I was doing my internship in different hospitals. Now that I’m in show business, I’ve been able to adjust to all types of people.”
There have been some encounters with rude individuals, but she was able to use what she learned in subjects like psychology to understand them and know them better.
Bea Luigi Gomez is a graduate of the University of San Jose-Recoletos in Cebu with a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communications. The outspoken queen who landed in the Top 5 at the Miss Universe 2021 pageant said she once dreamed of being a news broadcaster as she was “very passionate about writing narratives.”
Bea was an athletic scholar from high school to college. Through proper time management, she was able to take on a host of extracurricular activities.
“I loved learning and meeting new people. I participated in public speaking, theater and other performances. I was on the dean’s list and represented my university in interschool, regional and national competitions both in sports and pageantry,” she said.
One of her most memorable experiences she had as a student was when she became the campus station manager where she was responsible for the programming of the campus radio for one semester.
“I would DJ and sometimes broadcast campus news. It was very memorable because it was the closest experience I had of being a media practitioner,” Bea recalled.
Since representing the country at Miss Universe, the model, community development worker, athlete, military sergeant and Sparkle talent has pinpointed the link between the course she took in college and pageantry.
“Pageantry is an industry that requires maintaining relationships and communication skills. By taking up Mass Communications, I have learned to build relationships with other pageant enthusiasts, creatives and especially the media. Understanding and efficiency is achieved when there is effective communication. By being able to speak my mind and communicate well with others I am able to fulfill tasks and achieve my goals,” Bea said.
Miss Universe Philippines 2022 Celeste Cortesi studied high school in Italy, but had to put off further studies to begin working and helping out her family. When she came to the Philippines in 2018, she took up real estate, one of her sustained interests.
The Filipino-Italian model and Sparkle talent admitted that she first has to be keenly interested in a subject or topic for it to capture her full attention. “I chose to take up real estate because it’s something I’m very passionate about and [a business] I really want to be in,” Celeste said. “[In the past], I was not the ideal student. I only enjoyed studying something when I was very passionate about it [although] I do enjoy reading.”
Aside from working at an early age, she said she didn’t enroll in any university after finishing high school because none of the courses available then caught her interest. “That’s the reason why I always say that I enjoy studying, but I really, really have to be passionate about what I am studying,” she said.
Now that she’s a bit older, Celeste has realized how important a proper education is to improve one’s life.
“I would say that school is very important because not everybody is given the chance to get an education. If you have that chance, you shouldn’t take it for granted. If I could share a few lessons, I would definitely say, find that course or subject that you’re very passionate about so you will be able to grow and find your purpose in life.
“I admit that I used to take school for granted and sometimes, I didn’t really want to go. But if there is something that school really taught me, it’s discipline and working with others,” Celeste said.
Miss Intercontinental 2021 Cindy Obeñita took up mass communications at Liceo de Cagayan University because of her interest in broadcasting, which she said she discovered while still in high school.
“I was once part of the radio broadcasting team that represented our school in the annual National Schools Press Conference. With this experience, I sought a course that would not only trumpet my existing skills, but also provide a comprehensive understanding of communication as an art and a science,” Cindy said.
The new mother—she gave birth a few months ago—was an academic scholar from high school to college, where she managed to maintain high grades through sheer diligence and determination.
“Far from merely enjoying studying, I went above and beyond my comfort zone, showcasing my leadership qualities by also actively participating in the student government.”
Cindy said that one of her most memorable experiences was when she represented her school and the whole Northern Mindanao region at the National Schools Press Conference. “It brought me for the first time to many places like Albay, Davao and Palawan [where] … I not only sought excellence in my craft, but also took pride in elevating the reputation of my school on a broader stage.”
Cindy said she has been able to use what she learned in school in front of the camera and in various situations. “My academic foundation empowered me with effective communication strategies, making me adept at articulating ideas and engaging audiences. Whether facing the lens or interacting with diverse individuals, my ability to draw upon what I studied in school highlights the real-world relevance of my education.
“My triumphs in local, national and international pageants, including winning as Miss Intercontinental 2021, are not just victories, but reflections of the values instilled during my academic journey. Beyond academic excellence, my success is rooted in the principles cultivated in school—discipline, perseverance and a commitment to personal growth. These values seamlessly translated into my daily life, shaping my approach to challenges and opportunities,” she added.
Spoken like true—and well-rounded—queens.