When Valerie’s mother was a 19-year-old aspiring law student, she was brutally raped at knifepoint and became pregnant. As she noted in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune, her mother never planned to have an abortion even though she did consider placing the baby up for adoption after it was born. But Valerie’s close-knit family, including three generations of strong-willed women, embraced that nascent life just as her own mother had refused to extinguish it.
During an interview this week, I asked our new Miss Pennsylvania USA to describe her mother, and this was the immediate and unfiltered response: “I’ve never met someone that would have been so selfless as to give up her own dreams to bring life into this world.” Usually, when we hear that someone has chosen to terminate a pregnancy because it would derail their professional or educational plans, we’re supposed to accept it as a legitimate choice. When you’re then presented with someone who suspended her own aspirations in the service of a profoundly higher cause, it puts that other choice into painfully clear perspective.
Valerie’s mother has been quoted as saying that her daughter was “her light,” which is fitting, since that daughter has made it her goal to illuminate the lives of others, particularly victims of sexual assault and abuse. Being open about her origins is one way that she’s chosen to show the world that it is possible to overcome tragedy. When someone like this strikingly graceful, preternaturally wise 24-year-old talks about her personal story, the sterile rhetoric of “pro” and “anti” activists sounds cold, hollow and largely irrelevant.
Asked what she hopes to accomplish by sharing that story, Valerie stresses that she isn’t using this to capitalize on the expected publicity it will generate: “I have always been open about my conception, and for as long as I can remember I’ve even shared it with strangers. (My goal) is to give back hope to the American people. I have the ability to show people that no matter where you come from and no matter your situation you can achieve your dreams by staying positive, working hard and making sacrifices.”