Miss America Contestant’s Faith Journey Includes God-Inspired Dream
by francine barchett, cornell ’20
“Hey babe, you should get baptized.”
Synclair Gonzalez was ready to make her faith public. Her boyfriend’s voice, calm and reassuring, told her that now—the end of this church service—she should do it. So she went to the pool of shimmering water, letting the pastor guide her head under the rolling waves. But he kept her there…far too long. She felt herself flail, drowning.
Then a sweet voice told her to breathe. Just breathe in the water. The words defied logic, but their owner’s gentle voice tugged at her heart. She obeyed, and as water crept into the crevices of her lungs, she breathed more complete breaths than she ever had before. She was inhaling life.
Then she woke up.
As Gonzalez would later write in an essay for her communications class, this was not just a dream. It was a powerful symbol of her relationship with God, which had shaken the core of her existence, compelling her to do things—like breathe in water—she never would have considered before.
“I’ve seen such a drastic change in my heart, mind, and life before Christ and after Christ,” said Gonzalez, who had the dream in high school. “I’m now super eager to talk about what God has done and to use everything, including my assignments, to do that.”
That is a seismic shift for someone who was once a hard-core atheist and only viewed church as a way to stay on her Bible-toting boyfriend’s good side. Yet when her now-former boyfriend asked her about her beliefs, she started to seek out the truth for herself, from testing out a youth group to getting her first Bible at high school graduation. Months later, she flew from her home state of California to Ithaca, New York to start her freshman year as a Cornell communications major.
Eager to choose a ministry to support her newfound faith, Gonzalez wandered from table to table at the Balch Lawn Christian Fellowship Barbecue until she chanced upon Anna Shea, the Christian Union women’s ministry fellow at the time. “I wasn’t used to the Christian ‘let me get to know you over a cup of coffee’ thing, so when she [Anna] asked me to coffee I felt especially warm and special,” Gonzalez recalled. Her friendship with Shea deepened from there, leading her to a ministry that would shape not only her Cornell experience, but also her core beliefs.
“By observing my Christian Union peers and leaders, I learned what the Gospel in action looks like,” Gonzalez stated. “I attended a Bible course for the first time, and [was] taught what the Bible said and meant. I witnessed what it was really like to love others because God loved us first.”
While Christian Union Vita helped Gonzalez navigate her new faith, the road was not without hurdles. One was medical issues, which took a heavy toll on her two years ago. Another was her life as a veteran pageant queen for the Miss America Organization – since becoming a believer, she didn’t win a title for the first time.
Through these roadblocks, along with the business of classes and extracurriculars, Gonzalez chose to take heart in the message of Philippians 3, which speaks to the power and strength Christ gives His children to accomplish His will.
During the talent portion of pageants, Gonzalez used to sing, but now she sings for a different purpose. “I’ve really felt Philippians 3:8 come true,” she exclaimed. “Yes, everything is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I thought wow, I’ve always just sung for people…. But now I can sing for God?!”
Gonzalez has been a regular performer at WORTHY, a large song, dance, art, and Spoken Word initiative to remember the life, death, and resurrection of Christ held annually in Ithaca. She worked her way up from director of promotion as a freshman to what would have been a lead singing role this year had it not been canceled due to COVID-19.
The senior also grew within Christian Union, from being an attendee of Bible courses to now co-teaching one as a senior. Liz Thomforde, a women’s ministry fellow who has known her since she began at Cornell, said Gonzalez’s value is her authenticity and relatability. “Synclair is a great encouragement to the girls, especially by sharing how God has been so faithful to her through her many trials,” she said. “Synclair has really grown and matured in her faith.”
Gonzalez’s impact spans beyond the Cornell Christian community. Time and time again, she writes and makes videos about her faith for class assignments, from her baptism essay to a YouTube clip showcasing Cornell’s fervent Christian community. “I was nervous to craft those assignments,” she admitted. “I wasn’t sure if my professors would think I was dumb because I believed in Christ’s deity or if they would feel I was preaching. But I have received great feedback. They thoroughly enjoy my perspective.”
After graduating this spring, Gonzalez heads to IBM’s San Francisco office, where she’ll help develop social impact initiatives for their marketing department. One day she hopes to get an MBA or a Master in Theology since she loves both tech and apologetics.
Wherever the waves take her, Gonzalez will never forget her crazy baptismal dream. There she met that sweet voice—like a whisper—that told her to obey. And she did.