Hillsdale Alum Crowned Mrs. Universe

Written by Stephanie Gordon

Never competing in a pageant before, Victoria “Tori” Petersen, ’18, was recently crowned Mrs. Universe on July 22. She credits foster care for giving her a constant twitch to try new things and to meet people different from herself. Growing up in more than 12 homes, the Hillsdale graduate wanted to have fun, be challenged, and do something completely different.

“I had just finished writing the manuscript for my memoir, and it was a heavy process,” said Petersen. “I love dressing up and competing. I wanted to do something fun, so I entered the pageant.”

Petersen said the experience was exactly how you would imagine it to be—just like the movies. She used her platform to shed light on foster care system issues.

“My platform is used to help show foster youth that they have a voice and a purpose,” she said. “I don’t like the idea of being a voice for the voiceless. Everyone has a voice. They just need to be given opportunities to use their voice.”

Petersen entered the foster care system when she was four years old. She reunited with her mother and lived with her on and off until she was 12 years old.

“My mom is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, so there was much abuse and dysfunction,” said Petersen. “I went back into the foster care system and I lived in 12 different homes, and then I emancipated out of foster care at 18 years old.” 

The Christian studies and psychology major met her husband, Jacob, at Hillsdale. Together they have a two-year-old son, Leyonder, and a one-year-old daughter, Ezzeri. They have an adopted adult son, and provide respite to foster children. In addition, she is also the founder of Beloved Initiative.

“It’s my whole heart,” she explained. “It was born because the statistics in the foster care system are saddening and detrimental to society. We lose the potential of so many resilient foster youth because the system is failing them.”

Petersen said Beloved Initiative helps foster youth share their stories. Showing the worst part of their lives is being used for good, and the non-profit turns their stories into resources.

“Genesis 50:20 (‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.’) is our heart,” Petersen said. “We have resources to help youth with professionalism and navigating higher education. And, we have resources for foster parents and how to welcome foster youth into their home.”

Petersen explained that there are million dollar nonprofits “helping” foster youth by providing trips to Disneyland. But, Petersen said that foster youth aren’t a charity case to make people feel good. Foster youth are human beings who need to be loved.

“I think Beloved Initiative offers what foster youth really need to be successful,” she said. “We advocate for foster youth and we know what foster youth need because we are foster youth.” 

Petersen said her peers at Hillsdale College influenced her by thinking intentionally and living passionately. Her professors influenced her by being men and women of faith.

“It’s the people,” she said. “The people and professors and leadership at Hillsdale College just loved me well, and made me want to love well. They lived out the good, the true, and the beautiful.”  

In addition to her roles as wife, mom, Mrs. Universe, and founder of Beloved Initiative, Petersen also helps recruit underserved students to come to the College. In 2019, she and her husband helped form the Fostering the Good Scholarship at the College, which provides financial assistance to students who have spent time in the foster care system. She also has a memoir being published by Lifeway in the fall of 2022 called Fostered.

“The title of Mrs. Universe doesn’t change anything I want to do,” she concluded. “I want to be a woman of integrity that shows people that I’m the same person onstage as I am offstage.”

Stephanie Gordon, a lifelong Hillsdale native, is the Managing Editor of the Student Stories Blog. She is married to chiropractor, Dr. Matt Gordon, and has three children – Eloise, Flora, and Jack. When she has a spare moment, she enjoys paleo baking, floating on Baw Beese Lake, and breaking a sweat at the gym.

Published in September 2021