Grace Chen

Stories from a former Miss BC titleholder – a journey through the years

It was an ordinary spring day in 2005, grey and gloomy as spring often is in the Pacific Northwest. Prompted by chatter around the Langley Fine Arts School in Fort Langley, British Columbia where I was an 11th grade student and Darren Storsley—founder of the Miss BC Organization—was a teacher, I stepped into the school library not knowing that my life was about to be changed forever.

I was an introverted, socially awkward, bespectacled 15-year-old who didn’t have a clue what she wanted to be when she grew up. In that library, Darren and his mother Gloria explained the details of the Miss BC Pageant. There was a strong emphasis on charity, community, and personal development (plus an evening gown segment).

I want to be able to speak in public, I thought. I wouldn’t mind trying on an evening gown either.

And so I registered. That was the start of everything.

Here’s a bit more context about who I used to be—I was a nearly 4.0 GPA student. I handed all of my assignments in on time but had such bad stage fright I would deliberately skip assignments that required presentations. I had few friends and always sat in the back of classrooms to avoid social contact. I was bullied, had no sense of style, no self-confidence, and had never worn heels or makeup.

And then, the Miss BC Pageant changed everything.

Through a series of workshops on public speaking, interview skills, manners and etiquette, modelling, self-defence, leadership, and healthy living, I began to gain confidence. The program passed in a blur and it was suddenly time for private interviews. Though sweaty-palmed and dry-throated, I spoke evenly and coherently to the judges. Then came finals night. I wore an evening gown and full makeup and walked alone, nearly blinded by spotlights, on a stage in front of a sold-out theatre. I remembered all of my steps. I smiled brightly. I didn’t fall.

They announced the winners.

“And the title of Miss Teen Fort Langley 2005 goes to...!”

My name was called.

I spent the next year with the Miss BC Organization doing volunteer work around Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. We held fundraisers for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society, collected donations over the Christmas holidays, worked for the Variety Show of Hearts Telethon, participated in various summer parades around the city, and called the staff and titleholders of the Miss BC Pageant our family.

A year later, my reign was over, but that was just the start of it all.

I had become empowered and confident.

I graduated high school and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia. At the age of 20, I opened a talent agency that I built into a network of partners spanning Canada, the US, Asia, and Europe. Our talents were featured for brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Samsung and in magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. No matter how successful my agency became, I maintained a positive attitude towards my talents. Nothing is more important than your health and your education, I would tell them. Even thought I was just a small agency, I wanted to make a change in the entertainment industry.

At age 21, I moved to Asia to build my own career as a model as well as gain contacts for my agency. I was quickly swept up in a storm of lights. Within three months, I was sent to Malaysia to represent Taiwan at Miss Tourism International 2010, where I spent three weeks at a resort in Kuala Lumpur with 70 beautiful and talented women from around the world. We counted down to the year 2011 together on a glittering stage in our evening gowns after the final show. Two months later, I appeared in a spread for ELLE Taiwan’s “Faces to Watch” feature. I went on model in Hong Kong and Macau, and on a tour of China with top Canadian fashion icons, including the winner of Project Runway Canada and the coach of Canada’s Next Top Model.

After a year in Asia, I returned to Vancouver to build my career in marketing. Several years passed. My career flourished. I volunteered as social worker. Eventually, I took a sabbatical and travelled solo across Europe for six months with a fearlessness that would not have been possible if not for the start the Miss BC Pageant gave me a decade prior.

I represented Taiwan twice more, this time at Grand Slam pageants—Miss Supranational 2015 in Krynica, Poland and Miss Grand International 2016 in Las Vegas, USA. Through those experiences, I befriended more than 150 stunning and gifted women from the far corners of the planet. As Miss Grand International drew to a close, I decided that my 10-year stint in entertainment was over. It was time for other things. I hung up my sash, gown, and crown, closed my agency, and moved to London, United Kingdom to focus on my career in marketing and business.

I am 28 years old now. I am a manager-level marketer in London and am currently working on admission to an MBA program in either the US or Europe. I have lived and travelled the world with courage and confidence. I am comfortable standing alone on a stage in front of a sold-out theatre in Las Vegas with my voice and image broadcast to 4 million viewers globally. I converse with friends and strangers from various cultures and walks of life with ease.

I am empowered and confident.

My story is one of, as Robert Frost puts it, “way lead[ing] on to way.” That first step that I took all those years ago in that quiet library in Fort Langley led on to ways, which led on to other ways, and therefore changed my life forever.

It is with no exaggeration that I say this—I would not be where I am today if not for the Miss BC Organization and the gracious souls who have run it for the past 15 years.

I have kept in close contact with the Miss BC Organization throughout these years. They are my family. Time and again, since 2010, they honour me by inviting me to sit on their judging panel, giving me the opportunity to be inspired by the incredible women who pass through their program.

I will take the memories and lessons learned from the Miss BC Pageant with me for the rest of my life, and will always, unwaveringly support this life-changing program.

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