Emma Wo Is Off To The Miss USA Pageant

The product of two prominent Island families, Emma Wo is determined to find success on her own terms. That includes winning the Miss Hawaii USA crown. Now she’s off to the Miss USA pageant

Meet Miss Hawaii USA 2015 Emma Wo. She’s a 25-year-old public relations executive who has a passion for fashion, and wants to one day start her own marketing firm. She also hopes to become Miss USA, and will have the chance to do so July 12 when the national pageant takes place in Baton Rouge.

She arrived in Louisiana last Monday, along with many other contestants from across the country, and quickly learned that Univision and NBC were no longer airing the Miss USA pageant because of comments Donald Trump, who co-owns the Miss Universe Organization, made about Mexican immigrants during his presidential announcement speech.

Miss Hawaii USA Emma Wo

Miss Hawaii USA Emma Wo

Despite the controversy, the Miss Universe Organization announced that the show would still go on, and fortunately REELZ announced last Thursday that it acquired the rights to exclusively telecast the 2015 Miss USA pageant, airing July 12 at 8 p.m. EDT and PDT. The show also will be streamed live online at missuniverse.com/missusa.

“These recent events have really affected our contestants, and Emma has been amazingly positive through this uncertain time,” says state director Alicia Michioka Jones, who was Miss Hawaii USA in 2003. “This pageant is not about Donald Trump. It’s about these women, legacies and dreams.”

For the past year, Wo has been working tirelessly to be in her best shape — mentally, physically and emotionally — at Miss USA. “My major goal is to really make a splash at Miss USA and represent Hawaii like I know I can,” she says. “Being Miss Hawaii USA and being a representative of this state has made me so proud of what we have going on here. So going to nationals and showing everyone what Hawaii is all about is a really cool opportunity for me.”

Emma Wo with dad Buzz

Emma Wo with dad Buzz

Wo, who was raised in Manoa and graduated from Punahou School in 2008, is the daughter of Buzz Wo, a principal at CKW Financial Group, and Kitty Wo, Foodland vice president. Her maternal grandfather is Maurice “Sully” Sullivan, who along with her grandmother Joanna Lau Sullivan, founded Foodland more than 65 years ago. Her paternal great-grandfather is Ching Sing Wo, founder of C.S. Wo.

Yes, her family tree is highly-regarded and well-respected, and she takes great pride in that. She recognizes the many opportunities she’s been given, including her private school education, and doesn’t take any of it for granted. She graduated with honors from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., earning a degree in media studies with a minor in English literature. During college, she also studied abroad in London, and interned with various companies, including KITV news, PBS Hawaii and Sullivan Family of Companies. She also spent time in New York City, where she interned at Vogue magazine, working in its Fashion Closet and online editorial departments.

Now, the Kapahulu resident is a senior account executive at Bennet Group Strategic Communications and has her own blog called The Aloha Babe (thealohababe.com), which she started two years ago as a hobby and has since evolved into a small business.

Emma Wo with older sisters Marisa and Liza

Emma Wo with older sisters Marisa and Liza

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little bit of pressure to make something of myself and really find success, but I’m lucky that my parents have kept my options wide open,” says Wo, who is Chinese and Irish. “So whatever it is I want to do, whether it’s fashion or marketing or to be a full-time blogger, they support me.

“My mom always told me with great privilege comes great responsibility, and I think I’ve been super lucky to have had so many opportunities, and now it’s time for me to shine.”

The youngest of three girls, Wo is the only one in her family who found an interest in modeling and pageants. At the suggestion of her mom, she entered her first pageant at age 17 and won the title of Miss Hawaii Teen USA. “At first, I was a little skeptical to put myself out there, but I think putting yourself out there is really the only way you can grow and learn new things about yourself,” she says. “I’ve won and I’ve lost pageants, but every single time I think it’s about how you pick yourself back up.

“That’s what I like about pageants, you learn what is beautiful about yourself and how to make those things stand out, because there are 20 beautiful girls on stage with you, and you really have to learn what are your strengths and how do you point those out and how do you use those to your advantage.

“I was really shy, especially in high school, and around adults. I was always that kid hiding behind my mom. But pageants have opened me up and allowed me to put more of myself out there. Now when I go and make appearances and need to do public speaking or networking — those are all skills that I learned from pageantry. People sometimes say it’s just a beauty pageant. It’s way more than that — it’s about developing yourself, your self-confidence and growing into a strong young woman.”

Recently, Wo was accepted into the masters program at New York University, and plans to start school in January.

Her career goal is to start her own marketing firm specializing in fashion. She also wants to travel more, which is another passion of hers, and to continue her work in the community. Both of her parents are dedicated volunteers, serve on multiple boards and have been generous donors to various causes.

“My mom, I call her a community volunteer,” says Wo. “She’s an owner and board member of Sullivan Family of Companies (which includes Foodland) and has a lot of passion for that, but I think a bulk of her time is spent in the community. She’s on the board at Punahou School and Chaminade University, and she just put on a big flower show at Honolulu Museum. I don’t know how she does it, but it’s definitely inspiration for me to volunteer in the community as well.

“On both sides of my family, they taught me about giving back, and that’s something I strive to do with my title every day, whether it’s serving the homeless, helping out with Best Buddies International or Susan G. Komen. I’ve also worked with YWCA’s Going Places Network, which helps women who are unemployed find employment and develop the skills needed. I’m interested in empowering women.”

Growing up, Wo played volleyball for Asics Rainbow volleyball club, and even won a gold medal with her team at Junior Olympics when she was 15. She also played piano for 11 years, and was awarded a Paderewski medal. As a Girl Scout, she made the Girl Scouts Cookie Hall of Fame seven years in a row.

Emma Wo with mom Kitty

Emma Wo with mom Kitty

“One of the things my mom used to make me do every year was sell 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, so I used to go to the McDonald’s office and to every person in the Foodland corporate office to ask them to buy cookies.

“I also used to stand outside of Foodland Market City and Foodland Beretania every day after school and asked every single person if they wanted to buy cookies. That taught me hard work, sales skills, and to put yourself out there and see what happens. Looking back, some hilarious times were had and it definitely brought me closer to my mom too.”

Taught to be driven from a young age, Wo says she really tries to give all that she can in everything she does, and it shows.

Just watch her Sunday on Miss USA and you’ll see.