When reigning Miss America Cara Mund ’16 began competing in beauty pageants, her goal “was always to be Miss North Dakota, but it was never to be Miss America.” A contestant from North Dakota had never won the pageant before, and only three women from Mund’s home state had made it into the top 10. When her name was announced as one of the 10 competitors moving forward in the national pageant, she was surprised.
During an event Wednesday evening hosted by the Maddock Alumni Center as part of their “Life After Brown” series, Mund sat down with Visiting Assistant Professor of Education Hilary Levey Friedman to discuss her journey to the Miss America pageant.
Mund said she was hesitant to set her sights on the national title. “I don’t know if it was the mentality that it had never been done before, (or) if it was the mentality that there (were) all these people along the way that never saw me even as a Miss North Dakota,” Mund said. “It’s great. It’s the best job ever, but I just wonder why I never dreamed bigger. That’s what I tell other girls — just because it’s never happened before doesn’t mean that you can’t be the first one to do it.”
Mund is not only the first winner from North Dakota but also the only Miss America to have graduated from an Ivy League school. She capped off her Brown career in 2016 by completing a thesis and receiving a degree in Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations. As an undergraduate, Mund interned in the U.S. Senate and was heavily involved on campus through dance teams, the club cheerleading team and Kappa Delta. Before becoming president of the sorority, she served two terms as vice president of community service.
“She was a big force behind our big philanthropy event … because she’s genuinely very interested in philanthropy, and she’s done a lot for the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” said Jardelle Johnson ’19, current president of Kappa Delta. “As president, everyone really loved her,” Johnson said, adding that Mund was very enthusiastic and passionate. “She was a big role model for me coming in as a new member because she was always very bright and smiley and so accomplished. We love her a lot, and we’re very proud of her.”
Though she no longer organizes annual philanthropic events for her sorority, Mund’s passion for helping others is evident in her involvement with her official platform, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and through her role as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
“Not only do I get to make wishes come true, but I also make miracles happen,” Mund said. “It’s been a blessing because I walk into these hospitals and there’s often times that the children are very guarded. You come in with the crown, and they say, ‘You don’t know what I’m going through.’” But her involvement with Make-A-Wish results in immediate connections with the children, she added.
Since being crowned Miss America in September 2017, Mund has already visited eight hospitals across the country and met with patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital Tuesday.
After her year-long reign, Mund plans to begin pursuing a law degree in fall 2019 at the University of Notre Dame Law School. The Miss America Organization has supported Mund’s academic endeavors by giving her “nearly $100,000” in scholarship money, she said.
When asked about the recent controversy regarding leaked emails that exposed the pageant CEO disparaging former contestants, Mund said she was shocked. But she also noted the positive aspects of the organization, such as its ability to give women a national platform.
“I feel as Miss America, I represent what it means to be a woman in today’s society,” she said. “That is being well-educated, being able to stand up when other people sit down and say ‘I don’t think this is right,’” Mund said.
With seven months left in her reign, Mund is determined to make a difference. “I’m constantly focused, from the day I was crowned, on leaving this legacy. The crown only lasts a year, but the impact lasts a lifetime,” she said.