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Wright Words: From the tragedy of sexual assault to Auburn's Miss Homecoming (+video)

Published: Friday, Nov. 1 2013 9:00 a.m. MDT

AUBURN, Ala. — Twenty years ago a young married woman was sexually assaulted in California. The attack resulted in a pregnancy that the woman refused to terminate, despite her husband’s threats of divorce.

Two weeks ago, the beautiful result of that unplanned pregnancy, Auburn senior Molly Anne Dutton, was voted the university’s 100th Miss Homecoming by her classmates. It was the culmination of a weeklong campaign in an election ritual rich with tradition and prestige.

A life worth saving

Dutton’s long journey to the field for the historic announcement during halftime of the Auburn-Western Carolina game at Jordan-Hare Stadium began when her pregnant birth mother fled California for the South. She settled in Alabama and found an attorney willing to assist with the adoption. But as the pregnancy progressed, the mother began to feel uncomfortable with the lawyer and soon discovered Lifeline Children’s Services, a Birmingham-based Christian adoption ministry.

There she sought and received counseling, support and what she really needed most — hope. As the woman was nearing full-term pregnancy, a couple serving on the nonprofit board decided to adopt the baby. Never mind the fact they had five children already — three of them adopted.

Just three years later, adoptive mother Peggy Dutton was on her own raising the children as best she could as a single parent. It wasn’t always a perfect life, but it would turn out to be a beautiful life for Molly Anne.

Last week, I had the honor of conducting a long and wide-ranging telephone interview with Molly Anne. Since winning the title, her story has grown like a Southern weeping willow in every direction. She’s been mentioned in newspapers large and small, seen her headline top Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze” website and been interviewed live on "Fox & Friends."

As she shared with me exclusive elements of her story, I found the word “light” appearing in her quotes and in my notes on almost every line. I circled each occurrence and underlined my phrase, “She lives a life of light.”

An inspired adoption

Because Dutton’s mother was Caucasian and three of her siblings were like her — biracial — Dutton always knew she was adopted. But it wasn’t until after high school that she unearthed adoption papers in their dark, dusty attic.

It took time, but when the moment felt right, Dutton finally broached the subject with her mother. As they decorated the Christmas tree one year, carefully hanging ornaments and stringing lights, Molly Anne posed a question that could have been lifted from a movie script. “Mom, guess what I found in the attic?”

Among other things, Molly Anne learned that the processes and laws of adoption have changed in the two decades since her birth mother made the choice to let her live. Back then, most adoptions were closed, and Molly Anne has not uncovered additional details about her beginnings.

To mother, daughter and siblings, nothing really changed. They understood that adoptive mother Peggy was no less Molly Anne’s mother that day standing around the Christmas tree than the day she brought her home as a two-day-old infant.

“God knew I would come here in her womb,” she said. “And he knew I would be raised by another mother.” For Molly Anne, that’s all she needs to know.

Peggy Dutton certainly agrees their relationship has divine roots. “Twenty-two years ago, God so shined a bright star on my life with a bundle of joy I named Molly Anne,” Peggy told me via email. “I could never know the blessings that would come from this!”

A shining light

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