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‘A dream come true’: Brown senior places fifth at Miss America pageant

Caroline Parente ’24 is second-ever Miss Rhode Island to place in top five

On Jan. 14, Caroline Parente ’24 did what only one other Miss Rhode Island has ever done: place in the top five at the Miss America pageant in Orlando, Florida.
On Jan. 14, Caroline Parente ’24 did what only one other Miss Rhode Island has ever done: place in the top five at the Miss America pageant in Orlando, Florida.

As a child, Caroline Parente ’24 never expected to compete in Miss America, the nation’s longest-standing beauty pageant. A native Rhode Islander, she entered the pageant world for the first time at 17, when her high school photography teacher recommended she compete in the upcoming Miss Rhode Island’s Outstanding Teen pageant in 2019. One month later, she was crowned winner. 

After winning big at Miss Rhode Island’s Outstanding Teen, Parente went on to win Miss Rhode Island — a Miss America-affiliated pageant for women ages 18 to 28 — last May. She’s spent the last eight months as Miss Rhode Island — all while studying English and political science at Brown.

And on Jan. 14, she did what only one other Miss Rhode Island has ever done: place in the top five at the Miss America pageant in Orlando, Florida. 

“It felt like a dream come true,” Parente said in an interview with The Herald. “It was such an indescribable feeling to be representing something so much bigger than yourself.” 

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The Miss America organization hosts two annual pageants: Miss America, which Parente competed in earlier this year, and Miss America’s Teen, for young women ages 13 to 18. 

This year, both national title holders will receive $60,000 in tuition scholarships, and finalists — including Parente — will receive $10,000 in tuition scholarships. 

The pageant’s history has not been without controversy. In a TV series released last year, contestants alleged they had been mistreated by executives at the organization, and the pageant has long received widespread criticism for its infamous swimsuit competition, which it removed in 2018.

But for Parente, public scrutiny of the pageant “is based on this antiquated stereotype.” 

“From the outside, people assume that the girls are competitive, that the pageant is outdated and that the organization simply looks at girls on the surface,” Parente said. “But that is not the case at all.” In recent years, the organization has made efforts to de-emphasize physical appearance, including its removal of the swimsuit competition.

“They’re truly one of the most empowering things that you can do,” Parente added.

A year of service

For Parente, being Miss Rhode Island 2023 “means the world.”

“One of the most special parts of my reign is when little girls come up to me and say, ‘Look, it’s a princess,’” Parente explained. “It’s one of those beautiful moments when you realize that you truly are a role model for so many younger girls.”

As the reigning Miss Rhode Island, Parente makes appearances at state and local events, meets government figures, volunteers at community fundraisers and lights ceremonial torches at WaterFire Providence, the seasonal bonfire display on the Providence River. 

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The most important part of a Miss America titleholder’s reign is her community service initiative, in which titleholders use their platform to raise awareness for a cause of their choosing. Parente’s initiative, titled “InvestHer: Igniting the Power of Female Entrepreneurs,” is focused on encouraging young women to pursue entrepreneurship.

Having grown up in Rhode Island with little exposure to finance, Parente said that many young girls in the state do not receive the resources they need to confidently pursue business careers. 

When she arrived at Brown, Parente met other women aspiring to work on Wall Street, and with the help of multiple mentors, she became determined to do the same. 

Parente received a job offer in investment banking last January. When she announced it to family and friends, she was told that her new job would be “the perfect place to meet her husband” on eight separate occasions, she said.

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That phrase, Parente noted, was a stark reminder of the glass ceiling that still exists for women in entrepreneurship. “We celebrate reaching a threshold of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, but that threshold is still 10%,” she said. 

Parente has spent her year speaking to young women at Rhode Island high schools, encouraging them to pursue investment and venture capital careers.

“I allow myself to be a resource for them to ask questions that we wouldn’t really feel comfortable asking to anyone else,” Parente said. 

A dream fulfilled

Parente traveled to Orlando to compete in Miss America in early January. Though the official competition took place from Jan. 9 to 14, the private, untelevised interview with the judges — the first and most important part of the competition, and Parente’s favorite — occurred on Jan. 7.  

The interview, Parente recalled, is not a typical “tell us about yourself” conversation. Instead, the judges spend the allotted 10 minutes asking questions about nationally divisive issues, political stances, current events and the community service initiatives of the competitors, formally known as delegates.

“They want to know how you’d handle a press interview if you were Miss America,” Parente said. “They’re really looking at your heart and your mind, what you care about and how you would handle the job in difficult situations.”

To prepare for the interview, Parente sat down with numerous professors at the University who conducted mock interviews and engaged her in political discussions. 

After the interview, the preliminary competition began on Jan. 9, in which the 51 delegates — one for each state and the District of Columbia — competed in four areas: fitness, evening gown, talent and an onstage question. Throughout the week, the delegates also engaged in a variety of offscreen events, including a trip to Universal Studios, a gala and a fashion show for Jovani Fashion, the organization’s official fashion partner. 

On Jan. 14, the final day of the competition, the judges narrowed down the 51 contestants to 11 semi-finalists. After competing in the four events again, five finalists were asked one final question, and the judges announced Colorado’s Madison Marsh as the winner.

Though Parente went home without a national crown, it was truly the “best week of my life,” she said. “I’m going to have those memories forever.”

“Wearing my state that I grew up in, that I always talk about, that I love so much, across my chest all week was such a feeling of pride and accomplishment,” Parente said. “Knowing that I had the chance to make my state proud and bring them some recognition was indescribable.”


Julianna Chang

Julianna Chang is a University News Editor who oversees the academics and advising and student government beats. A sophomore from the Bay Area, Julianna is studying Biology and Political Science on the pre-medical track. When she's not in class or in the office, she can be found eating some type of noodle soup and devouring bad books.



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