Thai-American beauty trades shot at silver tiara for ivy league

At left, a tearful Perpetua Smith apologizes to fans during a live stream hosted by Miss Universe Thailand. At right, Perpetua Smith poses for Miss Universe Thailand 2022. Images: Pui Sankosik/Facebook, Perpetua Smith/Instagram.
At left, a tearful Perpetua Smith apologizes to fans during a live stream hosted by Miss Universe Thailand. At right, Perpetua Smith poses for Miss Universe Thailand 2022. Images: Pui Sankosik/Facebook, Perpetua Smith/Instagram.

A beauty contestant walked away from a shot at winning a crown last night for something closer to her heart – an advanced degree from one of the world’s top universities.

Hours before the Miss Universe Thailand pageant was set to begin, Perpetua Sermsup Smith, aka Peppy, announced late Tuesday night she was backing out of the tournament to pursue a doctorate in marketing at Harvard University.

The 24-year-old Thai-American’s abrupt departure was announced by pageant director Piyaporn Sankosik, who said that while she found Peppy’s last-minute decision “damaging,” she was “brave in coming forward to pursue her passion.”

Piyaporn said that if Peppy had gone on to become a top 10 finalist, she would have been bound by a contract barring her from other pursuits. 

The dramatic turn was streamed live in a video online, where a tearful Peppy appeared alongside Piyaporn to apologize for dropping out and thank her supporters. She explained that she wanted to continue her education and giving up the pageant was “one of the hardest decisions” she has made.

“I just have to say I’m so, so sorry,” Peppy said. “I know how much you love and support me, and it’s more than I ever expected, but I will be relinquishing any potential placement in the top five.”

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of her decision in a culture that holds up beauty pageants and airline flight crews as some of the worthiest aspirations for Thai women. Peppy’s fans however generally supported her decision.

“Follow your dream girl. I hope you success on whatever path you choose. I wish you the best and will always love you,” a well-wisher wrote during the live stream.

Piyaporn said Perpetua would be able to compete in the pageant’s preliminary and final rounds, but no votes would be counted.

An international model who was a finalist at the 2016 Miss New York Teen pageant, Perpetua was considered a crowd favorite for her ability to speak English.

She received a bachelor’s in marketing with a minor in international studies from New York’s Siena College in 2019. In 2020, she earned a master’s in business administration from evangelical Christian school Liberty University in the state of Virginia.

Preliminary rounds for Miss Universe Thailand begin tonight at True Icon Hall. The pageant ends Saturday.

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