Wearing the crown of Miss Alaska invokes a certain power.
“You place a crown on your head, and people are interested in what you have to say,” observed reigning Miss Alaska Angelina Klapperich. “It’s a very unique opportunity, and I want to make as much use of that as I can and spread good messages.”
Every competitor — one from each state and the District of Columbia — selects a platform, a cause that they will champion during their reign. Topics vary widely, from bone marrow donation to support of military families to clean drinking water.
In preparation for the pageant, “I did a lot of reflecting on what my message would be if I win Miss Alaska and get to travel to every corner of the state,” Klapperich said. “What would I want my legacy to be as Miss Alaska?”
Klapperich, a cradle Catholic and active member of Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla, remembered feeling profoundly affected by the suicide of a high school friend. She considered suicide prevention as her cause but wanted to delve deeper for a widely relatable message. She developed a platform of compassion based on a tenet of her Catholic faith, respect for life and the dignity of the human person.
She ordered wristbands stating her official platform: “Be compassionate! Every person fights a personal battle.” She has distributed the wristbands during appearances and speaking engagements across Alaska, in schools and at events.
“It’s been amazing the effect that message has,” she said. “Everyone seems to be able to relate.”
Sporting the Miss Alaska crown, 23-year-old Klapperich has addressed the state legislature in Juneau about the importance of making compassionate decisions with regard to the people they represent. She spoke to Iditarod mushers about personal battles and treating opponents with compassion, and was honored when one of them approached her at the finish in Nome to share that she had worn the wristband and carried her message of compassion the entire journey.
Klapperich has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Alaska Anchorage and an $8,000 Miss Alaska scholarship she plans to invest in a master’s degree in counseling. In her course studies she discovered “The Art of Happiness,” a book of Buddhist wisdom from the Dalai Lama that includes a chapter on compassion.
“Compassion is the common denominator between all faiths,” Klapperich said. “No matter what your faith background — or lack of faith, compassion is something we can all work on.”
So how to practice compassion?
“Be aware of the people around you and how they may be feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask someone how they are and listen to their answer,” Klapperich advises. “If you can offer any sort of hope or encouragement, do that. They might be dealing with divorce, death, loss of a job. You may not be able to help the situation; just let them know that someone actually cares about their struggles.”
While the thought of discussing feelings might stir panic in some, Klapperich said it becomes easier and more comfortable.
“It’s like a muscle, the more you work it, the more developed it becomes,” she said. “It’s a very concrete and useful tool in every interaction you have with every person you meet. If we all did that, we would feel closer and wouldn’t feel so isolated and lonely.”
Klapperich tailors her presentations to the audience. She might have preschoolers try to literally walk in someone else’s shoes. She sometimes tells teens about her friend who committed suicide in high school. She said meeting so many Alaskans from vastly different backgrounds and listening to their unique struggles has strengthened her faith.
“The greatest teaching of our faith is to love,” she said. “My love for others, who are all made in the image of God, has truly been strengthened.”
Klapperich said the pageant community has been positive and accepting of her Catholic faith, and her faith community has been very supportive of her through 14 years of pageantry.
“Without that sense of community and that upbringing, feeling so loved, I don’t know that I’d have been able to accomplish all that I have,” she said.
Less than two months of her reign remain. Klapperich is immersed in the experience, jetting around the state seizing every opportunity to promote compassion. In June she must pass on the crown, and with it that power of intrigue. But the power of compassion, Klapperich intends to keep with her forever.