Just like any other college senior, Molly Anne Dutton entered her final year expecting to kick it up a notch and finish strong. But what an unexpected ride this last year has been for the Auburn University student.
First, her name was announced as Auburn’s 100th homecoming queen before 84,171 football fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium on a balmy Saturday afternoon in mid-October. Then, on a frigid and snowy afternoon three months later, the 22-year-old spoke before an estimated 200,000 pro-life advocates at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
In between were myriad print and television interviews as news reporters picked up on her inspirational story of adoption: Molly Anne’s biological mother, who had become pregnant as a result of being sexually assaulted, had refused to abort her.
And, of course, there have been classes and tests and papers and projects as Molly Anne eyes her May graduation.
While her life has been traveling at warp speed, the horticulture major has remained rooted in her Christian faith. She has taken the meteoric rise to a national stage in stride and with gracious poise.
“God has done so many glorious things in my life and blessed me in ways I could not have imagined,” she said. “While it’s been hard at times, God has been so faithful and deserves my praise and thanks.”
Molly Anne’s journey began in California. When her birth mother learned the sexual assault had left her pregnant, she approached her husband. Fuming, he laid down an ultimatum: abort the baby or suffer a divorce.
The young woman chose not to terminate the pregnancy and moved to Birmingham, Ala., where she had family. While there, she came in contact with Lifeline Children’s Services, a Christian adoption ministry. After consulting with agency staff, she determined that carrying her baby girl to full term and placing her up for adoption would ensure the baby would be loved and cared for.
As the time for delivery neared, a couple who served on Lifeline’s board of directors decided to adopt the baby, even though they already had five children—three of them also adopted. So, in 1991, the couple brought another infant into their family.
Tragically, three years later, that couple divorced, leaving the mom, Peggy Dutton, to raise Molly Anne and her older siblings alone in Gardendale, 15 minutes north of Birmingham.
To expose her children to solid Bible teaching, Peggy took them to Gardendale First Baptist Church. That decision would change Molly Anne’s life, both in the present and for eternity.
“My brother, Joel, was closest to my age, and when he started getting involved in the youth group, I thought that was pretty cool,” Molly explained. “So when I was 10, I got really motivated to go more.”
When she turned 14, she joined some friends on a church youth trip to Daytona Beach. During the trip, Hebrews 2:9-11 spoke to her heart, especially verse 9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (NIV).
“I felt so unworthy because of my sin, but I learned that Jesus came down from His throne in Heaven to die for me,” she noted.
The depth of God’s love and the sacrifice of His only Son Jesus Christ was a revelation to Molly Anne. “When God showed me His compassion, I dedicated my life to Him as Savior and King,” she said.
Immediately Molly Anne sensed the importance of sharing the Good News with her nonbelieving friends.
That passion for evangelism followed her into college, where she has been active at Church of the Highlands-Auburn Campus, even participating in a spring-break missions trip to the Dominican Republic her junior year. “We stayed with a missionary couple in their home and went to different villages, where we did activities with the children and shared our testimonies and the Gospel,” she said. “That was such a fruitful trip.”
Molly Anne’s desire to proclaim Christ’s light in a world of darkness influenced her decision to run for homecoming queen. One day at lunch, two friends encouraged her to entertain the notion of jumping into the race. She initially hesitated. She was not a member of a sorority, so she would have to run as an independent candidate, which meant no built-in support. But as her friends continued to urge her, she started to warm up to the idea.
They brainstormed concepts for a campaign slogan, from an agricultural-oriented cause to fighting human trafficking to finally an advocacy platform with a personal tie-in: her own pro-life adoption story. Her “Light Up Life” campaign focused on educating young women on options available during crisis pregnancies and giving children hope and a future through the light of the Gospel and the life that God gives.
A small horticultural department club called the Professional Landcare Network formally nominated Molly Anne. She and her team knew her campaign would be a long shot, but they worked tirelessly, distributing yellow daisies and selling green and yellow t-shirts across campus. Proceeds went toward Lifeline Children’s Services. They also produced YouTube videos that highlighted Molly Anne’s story.
All five candidates went through two rigorous interviews. Each mapped out a broad-based strategy to appeal to Auburn’s 25,000-person student body. “This was not a beauty pageant or a popularity contest but was a true election campaign,” Molly Anne explained. “I never viewed my candidacy as a competition with the four other women. We became friends. I wasn’t running against them but running with them.”
When Oct. 12 arrived—the day the homecoming queen would be named during the Auburn-Western Carolina football game—Molly Anne was nervous. “I woke up that morning with butterflies in my stomach,” she said. “But the Holy Spirit gave me peace about whatever the outcome would be.”
Molly Anne’s mother escorted her onto Pat Dye Field. When the student body election results were announced and Molly Anne was declared the winner, she leaned forward a little, a look of shock covering her face. Peggy Dutton stood by, applauding.
As Alabama governor Robert Bentley and Auburn president Jay Gogue presented the university’s newest homecoming queen with a bouquet of roses and a silver bowl, Molly Anne and her mother smiled broadly. Then Molly Anne’s emotions let loose and the tears flowed. She and her mom embraced, and the two cried together.
Since then, Molly Anne’s life has remained a whirlwind of activities. As Miss Homecoming, she serves as a liaison between current university students and alumni.
“I was so filled with gratitude in my heart,” Molly said. “What a great gift God gave me.”
Pausing to reflect, she then added: “I was so honored to be voted Miss Homecoming Queen, but that title will never come close to matching my title that God has given me as daughter of the Most High King.”
And it’s that testimony that prompted an invitation to speak at the Jan. 22 March for Life in Washington, D.C. The march is held each year on the day that the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling legalized abortion in 1973.
Braving temperatures in the single digits and trudging through a blanket of snow left the day before, about 200,000 people, many of them college students, took part.
Bundled up in a grayish-white overcoat with a green scarf wrapped around her neck and purple-knit mittens covering her hands, Molly Anne told the crowd that she could settle for a normal routine that most college students experience. But she knows she has been called to a grander cause and that the Author and Perfecter of her faith has written her particular story.
“I am called to be an oak of righteousness,” the horticulture major said, drawing from Isaiah 61:3. “A planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (NIV).
As Molly Anne traced her birth journey, her message was punctuated throughout with applause.
“What the enemy intended for harm, the Lord has used it according to His will and purpose,” she said. “My story is God-given, God-ordained and God-breathed.”
Though she is now proclaiming the light of Christ on a national stage, Molly Anne’s immediate attention is riveted on graduating in May. She has applied for graduate school at Auburn and is awaiting word on whether she’ll be accepted into its master’s program in horticulture. She dreams of possibly owning her own retail plant nursery or working at a botanical garden.
But Molly Anne knows she will also remain active in the prolife movement in some capacity. “I believe that life begins at conception, and that God created me,” she said.
“Speaking in D.C. was a pivotal moment in my journey,” she added. “To be given that chance at the Washington Mall was inspiring. It refined the awareness and the importance of Christ’s life in my own life.
“If I can share God’s message with a woman or a man and it will help change their life, that will be such a privilege.”
Bible verses marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.