Graduate Student to Compete in Miss NY USA Beauty Pageant

January 10, 2012 6:14 pm Alumni, Athletics, Middle and High School Education Dept

Alumna and graduate student Joely Bernat will compete in the Miss NY USA competition.

Joely Bernat, a graduate student in Lehman’s TESOL program and formerly one of the Lehman Lightning’s top swimmers, is poised to compete in the Miss NY USA beauty pageant competition on January 14 and 15, at Purchase College.

Tall and fit with flowing brown hair, Bernat is one of those people who possess a certain air of positivity about her—someone, you suspect, who tackles life’s challenges with a certain joie de vivre. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English in spring 2011, graduating cum laude and as a member of the Golden Key Honor Society and Kappa Delta Pi’s Mu Xi Chapter in education.

Bernat was also a star in the pool. Having learned to swim at Lehman, she quickly established herself as a force in the water as a sprinter. “She started as a novice swimmer and built herself up, working hard for two years to become a very good swimmer,” said Lehman head swim coach Peter Kiernan. “I’d say she was one of the top in CUNY in the 50-meter freestyle, and she was also on our top relay team.”

All seemed to go smoothly and almost effortlessly for Bernat, until one November day during her senior year. While getting ready to leave for class, Bernat collapsed after experiencing shortness of breath and was rushed to the emergency room. There, doctors found that she had suffered a pulmonary embolism—a blockage of arteries in the lungs caused by blood clotting—that can pop up in otherwise healthy individuals.

“I remember taking [the news] in and thinking everything happens for a reason in life,” said Bernat. “If God destined for me to go through this experience, something good is going to come out of it. I feel like God gave me a second chance in life, for a purpose, to inspire other people, and that’s what I want to do.”

Given a new lease on life, Bernat has since thrown herself at high velocity into achieving her dreams, starting with honors at graduation and then immediately pursuing her master’s degree. She also became active with several organizations, including St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and recently participated in the St. Jude’s Give Thanks Walk.

“When people unite and help each other out, good things happen,” said Bernat. “Just to see these children survive brought me back to that experience I had, and I was very grateful to be there helping.”

Bernat’s desire to help people is what motivated her to compete in this year’s Miss NY USA competition. “I feel like Miss NY USA is the best thing that can ever happen to me because I can pursue my modeling career, but I can also help children and help my community,” said Bernat. “This competition is a great combination of the things that I love doing the most.”