Law graduate becomes first woman with autism to compete for Miss Virginia

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) June 21-22, pageant queens from around the state will compete for the title of Miss Virginia at Liberty University

One contestant's childhood struggle to communicate is now communicating a message of strength.

Hallie Hovey-Murray's Instagram is filled with the things that make her Hallie Hovey-Murray.

She's a beauty queen and a ventriloquist.

"America...America," her puppet sings in one of the videos on social media.

She's also a law graduate and an advocate for spreading autism awareness through her own non-profit, The 1 in 68 Foundation.

"There are many other students with autism who are braver than me, who are smarter than me, who frankly have more potential than me," she said in a speech she gave earlier this year.

Her message to the world hits close to home.

"I think looking at me now people are very surprised to find out that I am on the autism spectrum," Murray said. "But when I was 11, it was very apparent there was something wrong with me."

Before her diagnosis, she was asked to leave two different schools that didn't understand why she had such a difficult time socializing.

"I so struggled with communication as a child and I so struggled with stress, but those are two things that I've really worked on."

Fast forward through 10 years of doctor appointments, therapy, theater and debate, Murray's struggle became her greatest asset when she began competing in pageants.

"It's given me such a platform to speak on and it's allowed me to have a true impact."

Murray is the first woman with autism to compete for Miss Virginia, a disorder that is often considered negative. However, that's not how she feels about it.

WDBJ7's Katey Roshetko asked her, "How do you define autism?"

"As something that's different, but not something that's bad," she said. "It means you may have different challenges, but it can also be a superpower."

Whether or not she walks across the stage wearing the crown this weekend, Murray is taking her power to change people's perceptions of what they can accomplish with her.

"I see it as as a chance to show students who may not feel like they're worthy, who may not have autism, but they're in the same position I was, where they feel like I'm not worthy, I'm not good enough, I can't do this. That, yes, you can. No matter what obstacles are in your path, no matter what you're going through, you can impact lives, you can follow your dreams. And maybe they won't be successful, but they'll lead you on whatever path you're meant to go on."

Murray is Miss Commonwealth 2019. If she wins the Miss Virginia title, she'll go on to compete for Miss America in September.