She was the first Muslim homecoming queen at St. Cloud’s Apollo High School, the first Somali student senator at St. Cloud State University, and the first hijab-wearing contestant at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.
Now, Halima Aden is an ambassador for UNICEF, something she calls her proudest accomplishment yet. The announcement comes on the heels of Aden’s travels with UNICEF to Kakuma, the refugee camp in Kenya where she was born and spent the first seven years of her life.
“I want to be an advocate for refugees,” Aden said in a Teen Vogue video documenting her trip. “It doesn’t matter where you started. The whole goal is to get where you want to be.”
Aden, who is known for being the first hijab-wearing high-fashion model, is the cover model for Teen Vogue’s July 2018 digital issue. In the magazine, Aden discusses her Muslim and American identities, her childhood growing up as a refugee, and how she hopes to give back as a UNICEF ambassador.
Aden’s mother fled conflict in their native Somalia for the refugee camp of Kakuma. Aden was born there and lived there for seven years until she and her mother immigrated to the United States, settling in St. Cloud.
The 20-year-old Somali-American model skyrocketed to fame after she competed in the 2016 Miss Minnesota pageant while wearing a hijab. She went on to walk the runways in New York and Milan, and became the first hijab-wearing model to sign with top modeling agency IMG. Aden has been featured in a Nike ad campaign and has appeared on the covers of Vogue Arabia, British Vogue and Allure.
“It was important that I wore my hijab for the Miss Minnesota pageant only because that’s my whole point — you don’t have to conform,” she said. “It always comes down to choice — letting people live the kind of life they want to live.”