WINCHESTER — In high school, Dot Kelly, who is Korean American, said a teacher asked about her citizenship status in class.
It was one of many instances where she said she experienced racial bias and discrimination, and it sparked the creation of her #ACT, Cultural Diversity Awareness initiative five years ago.
The 22-year-old, who is pursuing a master’s degree in performing arts leadership and management at Shenandoah University in Winchester, will be able to further her initiative now that she has assumed the title and duties of Miss Virginia 2019.
Kelly was named Miss Virginia in December after former Miss Virginia Camille Schrier won the Miss America title. Kelly was the first runner-up in the Miss Virginia 2019 competition in June.
Kelly was sitting in the audience when Schrier was named Miss America.
“My heart was racing the entire time,” she said.
Kelly’s excitement was immediate. She said it has been her longtime dream to be Miss Virginia, and she was happy to celebrate Schrier’s success.
Her primary responsibility as Miss Virginia 2019 is to travel across the state visiting schools to discuss healthy choices. The tour is in partnership with Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to spread a message of health, wellness and prevention.
This also provides her with opportunities to share her personal platform and teach students about the importance of acceptance and being respectful of people and their differences.
Some area residents may remember Kelly when she served as the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival’s Miss Apple Blossom in 2018. In 2019, she was crowned Miss Lynchburg.
During a previous school visit, Kelly recounted that a young Asian American girl’s eyes opened wide when Kelly stepped into the classroom.
“’I’ve seen you before,’” the girl told Kelly. “’You’re a Disney princess.’”
For Kelly, if she could create another moment like that as a role model for a child, then she considers her job as Miss Virginia complete.
Growing up, a wall in Kelly’s room was decorated with autographed cards from Miss Virginia winners.
She said scholarship opportunities are among the reasons she wanted to compete in pageants. Kelly, who earned her bachelor’s degree studying dance in SU’s conservatory, has received $21,000 in scholarship money.
In June, Kelly will crown her successor during the Miss Virginia pageant at Liberty University. Until then, she will be taking a hiatus from her classes at SU.
Someday she hopes to dance on Broadway or become a Radio City Rockette, she said. Ultimately, she wants to lead a nonprofit dance organization.