Cara Mund, who was crowned the 2018 Miss America on Sunday, tells CNBC Make It she credits her success to having a specific mentality: never limiting herself.
"You're the only one that can really stand in your way," says Mund, who is 23 and the former Miss North Dakota. "I wasn't limited by anyone but myself."
And having that mindset has worked: Mund graduated with honors from Brown University, trained with the Radio City Rockettes, held an internship in the U.S. Senate, founded North Dakota's Make-A-Wish Fashion Show at age 14, was recognized by Barack Obama for her charitable work and will be attending Notre Dame Law School when her pageant duties are over.
So far she's won $45,000 in scholarship money and has scored another $50,000 with her latest win.
Mund says she became interested in pageantry at age six and had already scored first place in over four pageants prior to her latest crowning. This particular win means the most to Mund not only because of its national significance, but also because she's the first Miss North Dakota to take home the Miss America title.
"I felt like the underdog," she says. "I just wanted to make top ten." Not only did she make the top ten, she also made the top five where she was asked whether it was a good or bad decision for Trump to remove the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Her response, which was against the decision, made headlines the next morning, garnering both praise and critique. Mund simply brushed it off.
"I had to take a stand," says Mund. "I know not everyone shares my opinion but it's important that, as women, we all have an opinion."
Mund, who is notably related to Victoria Woodhull (the first woman to run for president in 1872), says that she wants to be the first female governor of North Dakota, a state which has been slow to appoint women to state positions.
Mund believes that by entering the political arena, she can be a champion for change as it relates to reproductive rights and health care. "We need equal perspective. I'd love to see equal representation," says Mund. "It's important for women to join this conversation."
She recognizes that this is a tall order but says that she isn't afraid of the challenge, even if she fails. Her Miss North Dakota win, for example, took two tries.
"If it doesn't happen the first time try again," says Mund. She points to becoming Miss America: "I took them by such surprise, which is what I wanted. For them to say 'that's North Dakota.'"
She advises others not to stand in their own way and block their success — a mentality that her parents instilled in her at a young age. "I had strong parents who told me that if I wanted to do something I could do it," says Mund.
"I just really want to inspire others," she says about her year-long role as Miss America. "I want others to feel like Miss America because the crown only lasts a year but the impact on others lasts a lifetime."
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