MUSKEGON, MI – The newly crowned Miss Michigan Vivian Zhong was 7 years old when she first witnessed the devastating effects of childhood cancer.
Through the Childhood Leukemia Foundation, she met Sadie, a 7-year-old diagnosed with leukemia. The two quickly became friends and remained pen pals for years, while Sadie struggled five years later and eventually beat her cancer.
Zhong, from Northville, was devastated when her childhood friend died of complications from chemotherapy and radiation as a child several years ago. Since then, 24-year-old Zhong has devoted her life to working with childhood cancer research in order to find treatments that do not harm children like her friend.
“In everything I do, I am committed to finding more non-invasive treatment options and ways to attack certain cancer cells so they don’t harm the growing bodies of children,” Zhong said on Sunday Jan. June, in an exclusive interview with MLive.
Zhong was named Miss Michigan 2021 during the scholarship competition held at the Frauenthal Center in downtown Muskegon on Saturday. She dedicated her platform to promoting her social impact initiative “Golden Warriors: Fight Like a Kid”.
The new state ambassador plans to spend the next year visiting hospitals and fundraising for pediatric cancer research, which she believes is extremely underfunded.
“I want to work to get the message across that we urgently need donations for pediatric cancer research so that we can find more non-invasive treatments for these children,” said Zhong. “We cannot forget these children.”
A 2019 graduate from the University of Michigan, Zhong will enroll in medical school to pursue a career as a pediatric oncologist.
Zhong has always called himself to help children. Since her father is a doctor, she spent a lot of time in health care as a child and felt very attached to the sick children, she recalls.
“As I got older and became a pediatrician and working with children, I realized that this is really my passion and that I want to do it for the rest of my life,” she said.
Zhong said she wanted to show a kind and calming presence to the children she serves.
“I want to be a doctor who is at their level and can talk to them in lay language about what’s going on because I know it can be so scary for a child to get a diagnosis and then get one To undergo treatment, ”she said.
With cancer having such a devastating impact on children and their families, pediatric oncology can be a heartbreaking field, Zhong said. But the job can also be incredibly enriching.
“It’s going to be very difficult, but part of it is saving these children,” she said. “Without these medical interventions, these children would have no chance. So helping them and saving them is really a passion of mine. “
Zhong said childhood cancer research is not getting the same funding as adult cancer research because there are fewer cancer cases in children. But children can be more susceptible to the dangerous effects of harmful treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, she said.
“In the US alone, over 15,000 children are diagnosed with childhood cancer each year. Those lucky enough to survive have up to a 90% chance of chronic, lifelong side effects, ”said Zhong on Saturday during the competition, wearing a black velvet ball gown and glittering earrings.
Zhong stole the show and impressed audiences during the two-day Miss Michigan competition. She and the 21 other candidates competed in a private interview, a question on the stage, an evening wear, a statement about social impact and a talent.
For her talent, Zhong wore a floor-length red dress and played a classic piano solo from Frederic Chopin’s “Fantaisie Impromptu Opus 66”.
As a crowd favorite, Zhong won preliminary talent awards for her piano skills in 2017 and 2019.
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Miss Michigan 2019 Mallory Rivard crowned Zhong after casting the role for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rivard’s advice to the new Miss Michigan was to “vacuum everything up” and keep a journal every day, Zhong said.
Zhong, who represented Oakland County as Miss Spirit of Michigan, called the last night of the competition “surreal”.
“It was just a great moment to be surrounded by all these brilliant and intelligent women,” she said.
Zhong received the title, a $ 10,000 academic scholarship, and the opportunity to join the Miss America 2021 program in December.
She also received the Excellence in Interview Award and the Preliminary Talent Award, both of which came with $ 500 scholarships.
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Zhong, who was first introduced to the Miss America organization at age 16, said she had been preparing to serve as the Michigan state ambassador for years.
She stressed that Miss Michigan is not about winning the crown, but rather using the crown to help others.
“I think it’s so important to see that this organization is not just about beauty, it’s not just about you,” she said. “It’s about serving your community. It’s about what you can do with the crown. “
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Relive the emotional coronation moments of Miss Michigan as well as pictures of winners from the past 2 decades