Courtney Choy ’14: In Service to Others

Photo by Jon Fujiwara

Over a weekend in May, Courtney Choy ’14 performed a moving hula ‘auana and impressed judges with her thoughtful responses to questions, leading her to be crowned the new Miss Hawai‘i. A day later, she graduated from University of Hawai‘i’s Richardson School of Law, with hopes of defending women, children and the elderly.

Choy’s social impact statement during the 74th annual competition was “women’s empowerment through partnership.” She says her own struggles as a teenager to find her voice and confidence fueled her desire to help others do the same.

Choy arrived at Punahou as a ninth grader, rising every morning at 5 a.m. to make the commute to campus from ‘Ewa Beach. As a middle schooler, she had taken a summer school class at Punahou called, “A Girl’s Life,” which she describes as life-changing – piquing her interest in women’s issues and prompting her to boldly follow her dreams.

“I still have all the things I made in that class,” she said. “We had a shoe box where we put magazine cutouts of things we envisioned for ourselves. We kept a journal and made affirmations for ourselves and others in the class. I wrote in my journal that I would get into Punahou and become student council president, which I ended up doing at my middle school. That course reminded me how important it is to manifest what you want in your life.”

While at Punahou, Choy became a Luke Leader through the School’s Luke Center for Public Service. That’s where she said she leaned into public service, which she says gave her direction and a purpose. “I’m not going to lie – I struggled so much at Punahou fitting in and trying to discover who I was,” she said. “I wasn’t in sports, but service is where I found myself.”

After Punahou, she attended UH Shidler College of Business, graduating summa cum laude. Law school followed. Now, she hopes her own experiences inspires others. “I’m excited to empower other kids who may be commuting to Punahou or may be thinking, ‘I don’t fit in,’ but then see someone like me on stage who’s in law school and doing all these different things. I want people to know to just be who they are, and really be patient with the person they’re becoming.”

A fifth-generation Chinese American, Choy entered the Miss Hawai‘i pageant as Miss Chinatown Hawai‘i. She got into pageants simply to challenge herself with something new and connect to her cultural roots. After winning the Miss Chinatown Hawai‘i title in 2019, she earned a spot to compete for Miss Hawai‘i 2020, but it was canceled last year because of the pandemic. She said the downtime allowed her to reflect on who she was, what she valued, and most importantly, center herself with
gratitude. “I went into Miss Hawai‘i just being proud of who I am and content and confident in the young woman I had become,” she said. “No matter what the results were, I was happy just to have represented my ancestors and my family.”

She says she’ll now proudly represent Hawai‘i, including competing in this year’s Miss America pageant in December. She plans to continuously give back to the community as Miss Hawai‘i and eventually as a lawyer. “I think it’s so important to use my law degree to empower the next generation, especially those who don’t always have a voice in our legal system,” she said. “So that’s the realm I’m thinking of and what I value.”

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