The chance to strut down a catwalk might be just a dream for some, but for University of Canberra (UC) student, and Miss Australia finalist Veena Wijewickrema, she’s making her dreams a reality.
Veena is just as ambitious in her academic life, studying a Medical Science degree at UC while also preparing for the Miss Australia national finals in June.
And while she admits being ‘obsessed’ with shows like Next Top Model and the Miss Universe pageant growing up, Veena had resigned herself to the fact it wasn’t achievable for a young Australian girl with Sri Lankan heritage.
“I would always look at these really beautiful models represent Australia and I was like ‘Well I’m Australian, but I’m brown’ so I never thought I could do that – that I could represent Australia, even though I’m born and bred in Canberra,” the 19-year-old tells UnCover.
“Then when I was researching how you apply for Miss Universe, I realised there is nothing stopping me, it was my dream to do this.”
While she’s exceeded her own expectations on where the competition would take her, Veena says there’s a deeper message she wants young women in Canberra, and across Australia, to realise.
“I know I’m not the typical blonde hair, blue eye girl. In my application when it asked why I wanted to apply for Miss Australia I said no matter what it is – your skin colour, your race, where you were born – what makes you Australian is what you embody, and advocate for the characteristics that Australia stands for. It’s that, not a citizenship or where you were born that makes you Australian.”
Veena believes its inclusion that makes us uniquely Australian, and it’s an ideal she strives for in her life every day.
“I’ve been an advocate for inclusion my whole life because I have a sister with Down Syndrome, and it’s been a really imperative part of how I carry myself and how I do things.
“It’s all about people with different talents, different virtues, and different opinions.”
While Veena will join the other Miss Australia finalists in Bali this month before the grand final in Melbourne in June, she hasn’t pushed her studies aside.
“My one thing is that beauty is intelligence. One thing I told myself was no matter how far I get I’m always going to make sure my studies are first.
“Even if do make it further, I’m not going to stop my studies, I’ll take a break and come back to it. Not only does it show your realm of knowledge and intelligence, but I think it shows a whole different spectrum of your characteristics, and shows how driven you are, how motivated you are, what you’re passionate about, and what it is about you that likes to learn and that makes you unique.”
With the finals looming, Veena says she’s still learning her way through the entire experience.
“It’s still such a big learning curve and I’m constantly asking myself ‘What is it that I stand for? What is it that I’m passionate about?’.
“Recently I was asked ‘When was it that you realised you were really beautiful?’ and I still to this day don’t see myself as that. But I think it’s the fact that my mum always told me it’s what inside that counts.
“You can be as beautiful, or as tall, or have the most beautiful skin ever, but if you don’t have that goodness or wholesomeness inside of you then it doesn’t shine out. I’m trying to be really confident in myself and make sure what I really believe in shows on the outside.”
Words by Amy Stevenson