Discovering the Spirit of Success

Making history, Cara Mund becomes the first Miss America from the great state of North Dakota

Historic Boardwalk Hall was packed with eager fans and electric energy as Chris Harrison took the stage for his ninth year hosting the 97th Anniversary Miss America Competition from Atlantic City. Joining him on the ABC Network as co-host for the second year was Sage Steel of ESPN. Millions tuned in to the live telecast as 51 young women of intellect, grace, and exceptional talent representing their home states (and District of Columbia) took the stage to compete for the coveted title of Miss America 2018.

Following the opening Parade of States was the announcement of the Top 15 chosen by the preliminary judges: Miss Alabama Jessica Procter, Miss Alaska Angelina Klapperich, Miss District of Columbia Briana Kinsey, Miss Georgia Alyssa Beasley, Miss Louisiana Laryssa Bonacquisti, Miss Missouri Jennifer Davis, Miss New Jersey Kaitlyn Shoeffel, Miss New Mexico Taylor Rey, Miss North Dakota Cara Mund, Miss Pennsylvania Katie Schreckengast, Miss South Carolina Suzi Roberts, Miss Tennessee Caty Davis, Miss Texas Margana Wood, Miss Virginia Cecili Weber, and your America’s Choice—Miss Illinois Abby Foster.

With 25% of their final scores tallied from the results of three preliminary competitions, the stage welcomed the finalists in the first round of competition—Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit. In a high energy display of their commitment to health and exercise, this phase of competition, accounting for 10% of the final score, narrowed the field to the Top 12: Misses Alabama, District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Up next, the highly anticipated Evening Wear Competition, accounting for 15% of the final score, brought the finalists to the stage to showcase their confidence, elegance, and sophistication. Each contestant took the stage with a unique and stunning beauty that continued to build the energy in the arena. The celebrity judges’ panel then cast their ballots for the next phase of competition, Talent.

The Talent Competition, accounting for 30% of the final score, distinguishes a contestant’s skill level, performance quality and interpretive ability, stage presence, personality, and entertainment value. It was an impressive year for Talent, with Alabama — Vocal, District of Columbia — Vocal, Louisiana — Ventriloquism, Missouri — Bollywood Dance, New Jersey — Dance, North Dakota — Jazz Dance, Pennsylvania — Alto Saxophone, South Carolina — Dance, Texas — Dance, and Virginia — Jazz Dance, leaving Tennessee and Georgia as semi-finalists.

This year, the Top 10 were asked to two rounds of questions on stage—the first a personality question to get to know the contestant, the second a current event question. Always the defining moment on stage, these brilliant young women took on topics ranging from: Should young children be able to play contact football despite the concussion risk to whether it was a smart decision for the United States to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Each contestant answered their question with a truthful and matter-of-fact stance, none afraid of the weight their personal opinion may hold.

After a swift commercial break, the official announcement brought five finalists to the stage: 4th runner-up and the recipient of a $10,000 scholarship was Miss Texas Margana Wood, 3rd runner-up and the recipient of a $15,000 scholarship award was Miss District of Columbia Briana Kinsey, 2nd runner-up and the recipient of a $20,000 scholarship award was Miss New Jersey Kaitlyn Shoeffel, and earning the recognition of 1st runner-up and a $25,000 scholarship award was Miss Missouri Jennifer Davis.

Chris Harrison announced Miss North Dakota Cara Mund, the first ever from her state, as Miss America 2018 and the winner of a $50,000 scholarship award. Throughout her year-of-service, Cara will travel as an advocate for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and her personal platform, A Make-a-Wish Passion with Fashion.

 

Pageantry magazine: It would not be hyperbolic to say that this has really been an historic event. As the former Miss North Dakota, what could possibly have been going through your mind as you were standing center stage awaiting the announcement?
CM: I went into Miss America saying I wanted to make history, I wanted to put North Dakota on the map, but I don’t think I ever expected to be one of the final two standing there. As we went through the cuts and it became top seven and then top five, I just kept thinking, “Oh my goodness. I am representing my state, and I’m doing something that no one’s done before.” Up to this year, the furthest we ever got was three girls in the top 10.

PM: How important is the Miss America Scholarship Foundation to you?
CM: It’s extremely important. When I actually got into Brown University, I was very nervous about how I would afford it. I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, it had always been my dream school, and that if I turned it down, I would always regret it. Because of Miss America, I’ve earned nearly $100,000 in scholarships, and part of that was able to help me afford Brown, and the rest is going to go towards law school. Now, with this scholarship, I’ll hopefully graduate debt free.

PM: During the week, you were also a Quality of Life recipient. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
CM: I had thought going into that night of competition North Dakota had never had a Quality of Life finalist, let alone one that became the first runner up to Quality of Life. Right there, I knew I had already made history. I kept thinking, “In the Miss North Dakota books, they’ll put Cara Mund, Quality of Life first runner up.” I’m always going to be proud of that. Quality of Life is based on your community service and your commitment to your platform, and mine’s the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

When I did my Quality of Life application, I actually got the CEO of Make-A-Wish North Dakota to write one of the recommendation letters. Then, after I became Miss America, the CEO of Make-A-Wish America wrote me a letter, and he congratulated me on the Quality of Life and becoming Miss America. Not only do I get to represent Children’s Miracle Network hospitals this year, but I also get to represent my platform, which is Make-A-Wish.

PM: The Make-A-Wish Foundation that you work with, you actually founded a charity fashion show, correct?
CM: Yes, when I was 14 years old in Bismarck, North Dakota, and we just celebrated the 10th anniversary this last spring. It has raised over $78,500 for kids right in North Dakota, to help make their wishes come true.

PM: Miss America is known for the Talent Competition. Let’s talk a little bit about your talent routine and that you’ve also been recognized as a dancer from an early age.
CM: I was a competitive dancer. I started dance at age three. I’ve been choreographing since I was five years old, granted they weren’t very good back then. I knew if I ever got to Miss America, I wanted to perform a routine that was 100% mine, from the music arrangement to the choreography to the dance. I knew if I was going to be on that Miss America stage and I really wanted to be Cara 100%, I needed to do my own choreography, and so that’s exactly what I did.

PM: What has been your reaction to any negativity to your question regarding the United States pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement?
CM: Well, I think you know when you’re answering a very politicized question that not everyone’s going to agree with you. The fact that Miss America gave us those tough questions on national television and knew that we’d be able to answer them, that just put confidence in myself and within the organization. While you may have negativity on social media based on what you said, it’s opening a dialogue, and that dialogue didn’t exist before.

PM: You had a wonderful shout out from the Radio City Rockettes. Why would they send a shout out to you?
CM: I trained with them for four summers. I always wanted to be a Rockette, too. That was one of the things on my bucket list. I got to be 18 years old and I was old enough to finally audition, but I was too short to become a Rockette. I ended up getting into Brown, and you realize everything happens for a reason. I think that training and spending those summers in New York just made me more well-prepared to be Miss America. That was the first time I had gone away from home for a long period of time, and so I was confident then that I’d be able to go to college and not be too homesick.

PM: You’re also very active in politics, even serving as an intern in the US Senate. What did you learn when you were in Washington?
CM: It was right before the 2016 election, and so I actually got to spend the election in Washington DC. I think one thing I realized is how great it is to represent your state and to serve as the voice for them. Prior to that, I had thought, “These politicians come in with their own agenda.” Just based on my experience and with my senator, Senator John Hoeven, I realized that everyone who called in, we logged their calls. We knew their opinions, we knew why they had the opinions they had, the concerns that they had, and we were able to take them to the floor. But to have that opportunity and that platform and that voice, it just inspired my future dream to become the first female governor of North Dakota.

PM: What is it about pageantry that is so positive in developing young people like yourself?
CM: The skills that I learned … I went into my Brown University interview more confident than I could’ve ever imagined. I kept thinking, “Okay, if I made it through Miss America’s Outstanding Teen national interview, I think I can make it through a college interview, too.” That’s continued through with job interviews, with my Miss North Dakota interview, with my Miss America interview. I don’t think I’ve walked into an interview nervous since I was 14 years old. It’s a true testament to the program.

PM: Think about the symbolism and the irony. You’re going through the interviews in an Ivy League school, and the next thing you know, you’re on live television with a ratings winner for the night in front of millions of people being asked political questions.
CM: Well, it’s interesting because you prepare so much. People kept asking, “Well, did you prepare those three months prior to Miss America for the job?” I was like, “No. I think I’ve been preparing my whole life for the job.” When you’re at school you don’t think about it, but you are. You’re engaging in debates, you have these dialogues, and it just makes you more and more prepared. When I answered that on-stage question, I wasn’t nervous. If you just think about it as, “It’s just a question. That’s all they’re asking, just one question. You already completed a 10-minute interview with questions that are just as hard as this. You can do one question on national television.” I think a lot of it’s a mental game, but all of the preparation I had done up to that point, all of the qualifications I did, it just made me that much more ready.

PM: You’ve been on a whirlwind media tour. Tell us some of the places you’ve had the opportunity to visit and who you’ve met.
CM: Well, my very first appearance was Good, Morning America, which I’d always dreamed of having the opportunity to actually be on. When I was in New York City, I would go and I would be one of those in the back with a sign, but I never thought I’d be one that was actually featured. That was pretty unique. Then I was on Live with Kelly and Ryan, right there I was like, “Okay. Don’t fangirl. Just enjoy the experience.” There’s opportunities that you would have never expected, and it happened two days after I was crowned. I was on an E! interview, I did a People Style interview, then I flew to LA and I was in LA for a week and did a variety of media appearances. I even got to go watch the filming of Dancing with the Stars, so that combined my talent but also the connections we have. It was great.

PM: Miss America has a side that a lot of people don’t know about, and that’s their support of children through the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.
CM: I was at one in Orange County, and then I’ll also be going to one in Atlanta. That’s what’s really unique, in North Dakota we actually only have one Children’s Miracle Network hospital. I knew as Miss North Dakota I was making a statewide impact and I was doing the most that I could for our hospitals, but now as Miss America, I get to make an impact throughout the entire nation, which I think is what I’m looking forward to most this year.
I keep saying, “The crown only lasts a year.” The opportunities, they continue to last even after, because I’m always going to get to be Miss America 2018, but it’s the impact that you make that can change someone’s life entirely. That’s what happened for me. I met my first Miss America in 2001, and then she came back to Miss North Dakota in 2007, and I remember every detail, up to the point of what I was wearing that day. To be able to go into those hospitals and hopefully bring some type of hope to a child when they’re having some of their most difficult days is one of the best parts of the job.

PM: What do you hope to accomplish as Miss America?
CM: I think it was just such a historic win, and specifically for girls in North Dakota, but also for girls all across the nation and for states that may not have had a Miss America yet. It proves it doesn’t matter where you come from. As long as you work hard and you’re determined, you can easily become what you dream. I just want to inspire so many young girls just the way that Miss America inspired me. I never expected this opportunity, I never expected a Miss North Dakota to ever seriously be considered, but at the end of the day, the only person who was limiting me was myself. That’s what I want those girls to know, is that you’re the one standing in the way. If you can dream it, if you work towards it, you can easily become it.