People have been telling Cara Mund that she couldn’t do things her whole life.
A guidance counselor told her she wouldn’t get into an Ivy League school.
She graduated from Brown University.
More than one person told her that because she was from a state with a small population and a small pageant system, she couldn’t be Miss America.
On Friday morning, as she stood on the stage in the Bakken Elementary auditorium wearing the crown and sash that showed the doubters that she could, indeed, be Miss America, she had a message for the hundreds of students gathered there. They can do whatever they are willing to work hard enough to achieve.
“In this room, maybe we have the next Carson Wentz,” she told them, referencing her classmate from Bismarck Century High School, now in his second year as the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. “Maybe we have the next Miss America.”
Her visit to Bakken Elementary was the first of two on Friday. In the evening, she had her official introduction in her home state and then crowned Lizzie Jensen as Miss North Dakota.
During a news conference Friday afternoon, Mund recounted her journey to the Miss America title.
When this year’s Miss America Pageant started, Mund was focused on making history. She knew that there had only been three Miss North Dakotas named to the top 10 at the pageant. Maybe that would be her chance.
Then she heard she was a finalist for the pageant’s quality of life award.
“So maybe that’s going to be how I make history for North Dakota,” she recalls thinking.
Then she was named first runner-up for the quality of life award. Then she was in the top 15, and so featured on national television.
Then the top 12. Then the top 10, which meant she got to showcase her talent — dance — on TV.
Then, in what she recalls as a blur, she was among the top 3. Then they called her name and she was Miss America.
“In my interview, I told the judges not to underestimate me,” she said. “Do not overlook me. And they didn’t.”
Her journey since winning the crown has been nearly as fast-paced and surreal as the pageant itself. She’s changed locations just about every 48 hours since early September, she said.
She’s getting to talk with people around the country and has now been to 40 states. And she’s interacted with children nearly everywhere she’s visited.
As Miss America, she’s the ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network. That fits well with the platform that made her first runner-up for the quality of life award — the Make-A-Wish foundation.
For the last 10 years, she’s put on a fashion show in Bismarck as a fundraiser for the group, and been involved with granting wishes for 23 children who had life-threatening illnesses.
Now she’s meeting with more children than ever.
She recently visited a Children’s Miracle Network hospital in San Antonio, where she got to see nearly every patient.
Most of them were really excited to see her, but one boy wasn’t impressed.
After she talked with him for a while, he was still skeptical.
“If you’re really Miss America, are you married to Captain America?” he asked.
“I said, ‘Yes!” she recalled.
On Friday morning, Mund’s message to the students at Bakken Elementary was pretty simple. People might underestimate them, but they were special.
“You have this passion,” she said. “You have this heart and this drive.”
They just need to figure out what their dream is and work toward it.
“My dream came true right on this stage,” she said.