Erin O’Flaherty is a University of Central Florida senior from Florence, S.C., pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and one day hopes to use her business skills to own and operate a small business. Erin is a titleholder in the Miss America Organization as Miss University of Central Florida 2013. She is an ambassador for both the Children’s Miracle Network and her personal platform of suicide prevention. She loves world traveling, kayaking and playing soccer, and has been a farmhand and livestock judge. She is a human-rights activist and aspires to instill in others a sense of appreciation for and celebration of diversity in all aspects of life.

When did you realize you wanted accounting to be your career?

As a child, my dream job was to be a cashier! I was enamored with the entire transaction process every time I went grocery shopping with my mom. As I grew older, I took special interest in balancing my grandmother’s checkbook for her. I looked forward to it every Sunday! Eventually, I realized that I had a strong entrepreneurial drive and I was especially good with rules, organization, and numbers. So I decided to make my bean-counting career official and earn a degree in accounting.

What have been your biggest challenges as a student?

I think a huge challenge that many students face but don’t often talk about is the pressure to immediately pick a major and stick with it. While I always knew that I had a keen interest in business, I was initially a biology major and had intentions of pursuing medical school. When I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted, it almost felt like I couldn’t get out because I had already sacrificed so much and was so far in. I ended up following my heart, switched my major, and now I’m a fifth-year senior, but I’m proud of myself for doing it. I’m happier because of my decision, too, and I meet so many students in similar situations all the time who stick with majors for the wrong reasons.

What have you liked about your time at UCF?

My time at UCF has been incredibly diverse. I’ve been able to participate in so many different things. Coming to UCF as an out-of-state student\ at 16 years old, I first became involved with the LEAD Scholars program. Since then, I’ve been a member of and held leadership roles in several organizations. What I love best is that as I’ve grown, my involvement has, too, and there’s always been a comforting sense of belonging here no matter what stage of my college career I’ve been in. An often-used phrase at UCF is “There’s something for everyone,” and that is true.

What accomplishments have you been most proud of at UCF?

When I began my college career, I was only 16, plus I was an out-of-state student. I’m so proud that I was able to move nearly 500 miles away from home, scared, and still be able to see the success and involvement that I have seen since I’ve been here. Simply being a student here was a huge accomplishment for me at the time. Since then, I am proud of having earned the title of Miss University of Central Florida 2013 and being afforded the ability to be such a visible representative of the student body.

Who inspired your achievements?

I meet and hear of people every day that inspire me on so many levels. Ultimately, though, my family and friends have been the driving force behind me to follow my dreams. No matter what crazy ideas I come up with, they are always nothing less than 100 percent supportive. I must call my mom three times a week with some new business plan I’ve come up with.

What is your pageant platform?

My pageant platform is Suicide Prevention and Awareness, but it’s not only for my Miss America Organization involvement; it’s very personal to me. When I was 13, I lost one of my best friends to suicide. My first funeral experience involved watching my best friend’s body being lowered into the ground. It changed my life, my views on life, and the way I think. Since then, I have tried to become as involved with suicide prevention as much as possible through a multitude of organizations including the QPR Institute, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and The Trevor Project.

Tell us about your human-rights activism.

I grew up believing that there are multiple paths of life, and that cultivating inclusive and accepting environments is crucial to evolving a productive society. I believe in equal rights for all, and as an open lesbian I strive to be involved in efforts to further these rights, whether it be through the Human Rights Campaign or events put on through the Pride Coalition at UCF.

What do you do for fun?

I love to kayak. I have my own that I take on day trips to Wekiwa Springs. It’s relaxing, it’s active, and I get to see lots of cool wildlife and glide by alligators. I also love to play soccer, sing, and hang out with my little sister.

What do you plan to do after you graduate?

I would love to start my career working as a CPA for a Big 4 accounting firm. Ultimately, though, I want to feed my entrepreneurial drive by owning and operating a small business. I’m not sure exactly what I will do yet, but I’ve got a lot of ideas floating around up there.

How do you hope to inspire others in the future?

It’s as simple as continuing my involvement in my community, pursuing the things I am passionate about, and leading by example.