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Miss Universe alumna, MIT prefrosh

An insight into the life of Shanaelle Petty, 2017 Miss Universe Croatia and Class of 2022

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Miss Universe Croatia and member of the MIT Class of 2022, Shanaelle Petty, poses in the airport in Zagreb, Croatia.
Courtesty of Shanaelle Petty

Shanaelle Petty was crowned 2017 Miss Universe Croatia last April, and made it into the top 16 at the Miss Universe 2017 pageant. She will enter MIT this fall as part of the class of 2022. This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

The Tech: Why did you choose MIT?

Shanaelle: It’s MIT! So actually, the first time I applied to college was senior year of high school; I actually didn’t apply to MIT because I thought I had no chance. However, after I took my gap year, my aunt urged me to give it a try. I remember after my two hour-long admissions interview, I was so excited. I was just thinking: I can’t wait, I’m going to love it, it’s going to be amazing! Then I sat down and realised: Oh wait, I need to get accepted first!

The Tech: How did you feel when you realized you had been accepted?

Shanaelle: I cried like a baby! I was in Italy at the time, so the announcements were being made at 2 or 3 a.m. I tried to stay up but fell asleep. I woke up about an hour after the decisions, with a feeling that there was something I should have done. When I remembered, I immediately logged in, saw the decision and started crying and crying — not crocodile tears but ugly alligator tears!  When I walked into my parents’ room, they were really confused, asking which boys they had to talk to. They thought I had gotten my heart broken! It was such a shock — for a whole hour afterwards I was crying with happiness.

The Tech: What are you most looking forward to at MIT?

Shanaelle: A normal schedule of some sort! It’s been so crazy these past couple of years; there is no normality. I’m looking forward to set deadlines and knowing how to organize my time somehow. I’m craving that regular structure in life … I’m so excited, after Pi Day last year I couldn’t wait to get started! I’m also a little nervous, as I’ve been out of school for a while, but I’ve been brushing up on my math and physics to prepare as the start of the year approaches.

The Tech: What are you hoping to study here?

Shanaelle: Physics. I believe that is Course 8 — I learned all the course terminology from stalking people on our Facebook group page! Before junior year, Physics was always this untouched gold mine, but after finally taking my first class, I absolutely fell in love with it. My school only offered two semesters of Physics, which I finished within the year, but I had to take AP Physics C during Senior Year to get into my chosen colleges, so I self-studied for those. Even though it was brutally hard, I really enjoyed doing it. However I’m keeping an open mind about my declared major — there is only so much high school can expose you to.

The Tech: Do you have any career plans?

Shanaelle: My experience from these last few years has taught me that the whole five-year plan is such craziness — if you asked me two years ago what I thought I would be doing it would be completely different to right now! From people I’ve talked to, it seems there are just so many things you can do with, point blank, a degree from MIT. There are also so many things I don’t know right now, so I’m just keeping an open mind and looking forward to experiencing MIT!

The Tech: What made you want to participate in Miss Universe Croatia?

Shanaelle: After I graduated from high school, I had some trouble getting into the colleges I wanted. My parents were really supportive, so I spent about a year redoing exams, getting my life back on track. I remember sitting in my room looking through a magazine about the Miss Croatia pageant. My mom had actually done it and got into the Top Six. When relatives had mentioned the competition previously, I didn’t think I had the time, but in that moment I looked it up online and the applications were still open. I thought I should apply just for the heck of it, and totally forgot about it. A month later, I got a phone call and I remember thinking: Who has the indecency to call me at 11 a.m. when I am sleeping? So I answered in a cranky mood, and they were asking questions like: Are you Shanaelle Petty? Yeah. Are you Croatian? Yeah. You’re actually Croatian? Initially, the people at the pageant had thought it was a joke: there I was, a mixed girl applying for Miss Croatia with neither a first or last name resembling anything Slavic. But eventually, they set up an interview, and the rest is history.

The Tech: How did suddenly being put into the spotlight feel?                                                 

Shanaelle: Weird! I still get weirded out when someone comes up to me in the mall asking for a picture — I just think Why? It’s an odd thing; I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it, but it’s been interesting because it gives me a new perspective on the social media coverage I see about bigger celebrities, who have a much bigger public following.

The Tech: Were they any downsides to the experience?

Shanaelle: Delaying my start to MIT. I know, very cheesy! Also walking in the high heels for so long — heels are nice but I like my slippers and sneakers!

The Tech: What was it like juggling MIT admissions alongside Miss Universe?

Shanaelle: They didn’t actually overlap that much. My acceptance into MIT actually made Miss Croatia a much more enjoyable experience! I had my interview for Ms Croatia in February, and then got my MIT decision on Pi Day. This meant at the Miss Croatia pageant in April, I could simply enjoy the moment and have fun — I knew I was going to MIT in the fall, and that was all that mattered. And then I won and regretted ignoring my parents’ advice to make a plan for this scenario. It had just seemed so ridiculous, so of course I didn’t have a plan! On my MIT FUN form I had just written “applied for a pageant, no other updates.” So I called MIT general admissions; they told me it would probably be best to defer for a year. That was a huge blow for me, considering I was so excited to start MIT, as well as the fact that I had already taken a year off. Also, the concept of a gap year isn’t really a thing in Croatia, so when I said deferred to my family, they heard denied. My parents were worried that I was going to reject MIT for a career in modelling, so it was a really big decision I had to make at the time. However, I trusted the people at MIT, and was happy for the security of a spot in the class of 2022!

The Tech: Are you hoping to continue modelling or to apply to more pageants?

Shanaelle: I’m not sure — I don’t know how much time I will have at MIT! It’s not really an aspiration of mine, or anything I ever planned. Also, modelling careers are very short lived; 18–25 years of age is prime time, so I don’t think it would be a thing. However, I think pageants you can apply for until 28, so who knows, maybe I will apply for Miss Massachusetts!

The Tech: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Shanaelle: Travelling or hiking. It’s funny, because if you asked me at 16 to go hiking, I would have said no way! I remember going on a really cute hike in Italy: there were llamas and alpacas dotted everywhere — it was really odd. It wasn’t a hike into the mountains, but it was a very unusual experience!

The Tech: If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?

Shanaelle: Tall, clumsy, observative.

The Tech: Do you have any role models?

Shanaelle: Of course — Serena Williams, the Obamas. There are several more, but Serena Williams is always top.

The Tech: Favorite Song?

Shanaelle: “Mine,” by Bazzi, the one currently blowing up on Instagram.

The Tech: Favorite Food?

Shanaelle: Green beans.

The Tech: Favourite Animal?

Shanaelle: Kookaburra.

The Tech: Would you rather never use social media again, or never watch another movie or TV show?  

Shanaelle: Ooooh…never use social media again.

The Tech: Would you rather go to jail for four years for something you didn’t do, or get away with doing something horrible but always live in fear of being caught?

Shanaelle: Is the jail in Iceland or a country where jails are nice? I’d go to jail for four years in a nice place. I’d just get my degree — prison community college for four years!

The Tech: If you had a magic wand to fix one issue in the world what would it be and why?

Shanaelle: That’s a tough one. I could do the classic “Miss” thing — “world peace.” It’s cliché but true! Actually, I would say education: I’d fix it so everyone has access to a basic education. I feel like that would fix all other problems.

The Tech: Any final comments?

Shanaelle: For anyone reading this, help me with homework once I get to MIT please. Help me, just help me!