December 2013
Youth Matters

Lighting Up Life

  Molly Anne Dutton was an intern this past summer at the Biltmore Estate. Dr. Jeff Sibley, Auburn Horticulture department head, stated the people at Biltmore said Dutton was probably the best intern they had ever had.

AU Horticulture student and Homecoming Queen’s campaign
gains national exposure

by Anna Leigh Peek

Long before Molly Anne Dutton made national headlines as Auburn University’s Homecoming Queen, her passion for life was on display in her work as a horticulture student and as a spokesperson for adoption.

"We knew when we started the homecoming campaign there was a lot of negative stigma about sexual assault, abortion and even life carries stigma, but we wanted to make it fun," Dutton said. "To know that life is so light and radiant is how ‘Light Up Life’ began, life is something to be celebrated."

Dutton’s passion for sharing the story of adoption is rooted in her own experience. When her birth mother, a victim of sexual assault, went to her husband about being pregnant, he gave her an ultimatum: either abort the baby or face divorce. The woman found her way to Birmingham where she came into contact with Lifeline Children’s Services, and she decided to put the baby up for adoption. Dutton is a living testimony to the power of adoption.

Dutton’s passion for life is not just limited to adoption but growth and life in other areas such as plants. The day before the first day of Dutton’s freshman year, she walked up the stairs of Comer Hall and met with a College of Agriculture advisor.

"I have never experienced as much joy as I did when I walked up those stairs. I didn’t know what I was going to do in horticulture, but I knew that was where I needed to be," Dutton said.

She started at Auburn as a business major.

"So many times I had heard adults say, ‘If I could go back to school, I would do it all over again,’" Dutton said. "Well, I wanted to do it right the first time. I prayed fervently for a passion that was going to spearhead my career. Through prayer and wisdom, plants randomly came across my radar."

Dutton is well known in the Horticulture Department at Auburn. Dr. Jeff Sibley, department head, said Dutton is "very real, she is such an encourager and works hard."

"Molly Anne was the chairman of our plant sale back in the spring that raised thousands of dollars for our scholarship fund," Sibley added. "She works to recruit students, especially minorities, to come to Auburn."

Mary Anne Dutton with Governor Robert Bentley, her mother PJ Dutton and Auburn University President Jay Gogue after she was crowned Miss Homecoming Queen.   Molly Anne Dutton’s homecoming campaign was titled “Light Up Life,” designed to share the importance of life with Auburn’s 25,000 students.

Now in her senior year, Dutton feels prepared to own a small retail plant nursery. Her goal is to build the nursery from the ground up and have both plants and people bursting at the seams. Her degree in Nursery Management and Greenhouse Production is equipping her to do just that. This past summer, Dutton was able to use what she had learned at Auburn in her internship at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

The Biltmore Estate sits on approximately 8,000 acres and has many gardens on its property; it is the largest estate in the United States. Dutton worked mainly in the Historical Garden. She planted and maintained many varieties of annuals and perennials, many of which she had never seen. A typical day for her was watering gardens and baskets, planting in various beds, composting, and working in the Butterfly and Rose Gardens.

Dutton assisted with the first International Rose Trial held on the East Coast. The trial identified which species of roses grow well in that climate. She learned how to deadhead roses and identify pests and diseases.

Throughout the summer, Dutton created a database and tracking system for all the tropical plants on the estate.

During her time at the Biltmore Estate, Dutton learned valuable skills such as driving a stick shift and a tractor. She was also able to visit several of the 250 rooms in the house the public does not get to see.

There was always wildlife to see on the estate, including the occasional bear.

Asheville is a very culturally diverse area providing different food and recreation. Dutton was able to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs from the estate and from local farmers.

"I wouldn’t take back my experience there for the world," Dutton remarked. "It spiked my knowledge in the classroom and gave me a very practical experience. The longer I am away from the Biltmore Estate the more I want to go back."

When Dutton did come back to campus this past fall, she had lunch with two friends and they suggested she run for Miss Homecoming. She was sponsored by the Professional Landcare Network Club on campus and began her campaign, fittingly titled "Light Up Life."

During Homecoming Week, Dutton’s green and yellow shirts could be seen all over campus. Her campaign staff and friends worked to get her story out to the 25,000 students on Auburn’s campus. They worked to spread the word through YouTube videos, daisies and literature emphasizing options available to young women during crisis pregnancies.

Molly Anne Dutton was featured on “Fox and Friends” on the morning of October 16 after her story started spreading on the Internet. Through Fox, she was able to tell her story to thousands, if not millions, of viewers.  

"Because that resource was made available to my mother, she decided to give birth to me and here I am talking to you 22 years later," Dutton stated in one of her campaign videos for "Light Up Life."

Her inspiring story swept the Auburn campus and she was crowned Homecoming Queen on October 12. By the following Monday morning, her story was being told by bloggers and news stations across the country. On Wednesday morning it was featured on "Fox and Friends," so Dutton was able to share her story with millions on national television.

Through her "Light Up Life" campaign, Dutton is working to show how adoption can bring light into a dark situation.

"I was given grace to carry that story," she said. "My story is a voice for the voiceless."

Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.