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I couldn’t help leaping for joy as soon as Mary Jean Lastimosa was proclaimed as Miss Universe Philippines 2014 at the recently concluded Binibining Pilipinas Pageant. While I was happy for my friend Kris Tiffany Janson for winning the Binibining Pilipinas Intercontinental 2014 crown, it would be hypocritical of me not to admit that I, too, jubilated over MJ’s victory, to the extent that I burst into tears—and uttered “Praise the Lord!”—from my seat.

After a long, winding stretch of time, Mary Jean Lastimosa has arrived—that is, at her third attempt to snag a crown, and this time with the Kagandahang Flores pageant camp headed by Rodgil Flores. Back at her first, she placed as second runner-up to her best friend Shamcey Supsup who bagged the Miss Universe Philippines 2011 crown. The following year, she and reigning first runner-up Janine Tugonon took a leap in the dark, but while Janine was the one chosen as Miss Universe Philippines 2012, MJ was unplaced. And much to the displeasure of her supporters who said that she’s overqualified for small-scale pageants, MJ packed her bags, went to Thailand, and joined the Miss ASEAN 2012 pageant, wherein she was part of the top ten semifinalists.

Indeed, MJ Lastimosa is cut out for bigger things, the most illustrious title in the universe—the Diamond Nexus crown. Her Binibining Pilipinas 2014 victory was significant in that she was crowned by reigning Miss Universe Gabriela Isler of Venezuela, and her crowning moment was witnessed by the Miss Universe of all Miss Universes, no less than the Miss Universe Organization president Paula Shugart.

Mary Jean Lastimosa’s degree of perseverance, determination, and endurance—not to mention loyalty to Binibining Pilipinas—is such that her story should inspire aspiring beauty queens: to believe in the beauty and power of their dreams. All right, ladies?