Miss Wisconsin Grace Stanke, a nuclear engineering student, was crowned Miss America 2023.
The ceremony took place Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Miss New York Taryn Delanie Smith was crowned first runner-up and Miss Texas Averie Bishop was named second runner-up.
“[It was] just absolute chaos,” the Wausau native told Fox News Digital about hearing her home state called. “There [were] no thoughts, just screaming and excitement. And then after it kind of sunk in a little bit because I still think it hasn’t fully sunk in… it’s the honor of being the representative of those… incredible women that I stood on that stage with.”
“Every single one of those women is doing something powerful in their community,” the 20-year-old shared. “Some are going to go on to become trauma surgeons, some are attorneys, some are just making a huge difference in their communities. And being selected as Miss America 2023 is just a huge honor.”
The top 11 finalists were 10 women selected by the judges and one selected by America’s vote. They included Miss Nevada Heather Renner, Miss Hawaii Lauren Teruya, Miss Oregon Sophia Takla, Miss Ohio Elizabette Nies, Miss Indiana Elizabeth Hallal and Miss Illinois Monica Nia Jones, who was selected by voters as the 11th contestant to make the cut.
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Stanke succeeds Emma Broyles, the first Miss Alaska contestant to win the Miss America title in the competition’s 100-year history. Along with the crown, Stanke was awarded a $50,000 scholarship, as well as a $2,500 scholarship she received as a preliminary talent winner for her classical violin performance.
“I started in Miss America’s Outstanding Teen organization when I was 13 years old,” Stanke explained. “I was a violinist and I had just started competing in local violin competitions. At the time, I was shaking, I forgot my music — overall, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. So 13-year-old me wanted to find other ways to improve my performance capabilities. And I found the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen organization, which has the talent portion of the competition. And I also learned interviewing skills. I gained lifelong friends, I earned scholarship dollars and I could stick with the organization. … And now here I am as Miss America 2023!”
Stanke, a student at the University of Wisconsin, impressed the panel of judges with her classical violin skills. She played “Storm” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Stanke revealed she was eager to follow in her sister’s musical footsteps.
“My childhood thing was I did gymnastics, but then I quit in second grade when I was 8 years old,” she said. “And then my parents encouraged us to have a hobby because both my sister and I quit at the same time from gymnastics. So she picked the viola, an orchestral instrument… And my brother played trombone at the time… I had narrowed it down to either flute or violin. And of course, I followed my sister because I was 8 years old. And that’s really how I started with violin… As I continued to grow and learn more about it, I loved learning how a classical instrument can be taken with a modern twist and create some really incredible music.”
“I always thought a violin would just be Vivaldi or Beethoven, like all of those classical pieces,” Stanke continued. “But I’ve also played ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC and I have played ‘Smooth Criminal’ by Michael Jackson. I have played so many fun pieces on the violin that it just goes to show the incredible power of the arts.”
The glitzy competition was born from a 1921 Atlantic City beauty contest just a year after women were given the right to vote. Faithful Miss America organizers and enthusiasts contend the annual ritual is here to stay and will keep changing with the times. Many participants say the organization — a large provider of scholarship assistance to young women — has been life-altering, opening doors for them professionally and personally.
Stanke is aware that many critics insist the competition is outdated. However, she pointed out that the show, more of a sisterhood, celebrates leadership and talent.
“I would say as a nuclear engineer… somebody who’s here to make a difference, are the every single one of those 51 women standing on that stage there to just compete in a beauty pageant? No, we’re here to change the world. We’re here to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. Miss America helped shape me to be who I am today. And I’m sure many of the women up on that stage, if not all of them, would say the same thing,” she asserted.
The competition also makes her even more proud to be an American, said Stanke.
“I’m just proud… of how much support and creativity that comes from the American people,” she said. “The amount of united feeling that we get really is just awesome… Miss America is an opportunity to speak to people all across the country. And it’s one thing that everyone can get behind. And that’s what’s really awesome about America.”
In the new year, Stanke wants to use her platform to raise awareness of clean energy.
“Right now, America is transitioning to zero-carbon energy for a variety of reasons,” Stanke explained. “One, climate change is a scientifically proven, real thing that we need to start addressing as one of the world’s leading carbon emission countries. But then also right now, the globe is running out of fossil fuels. That’s just an inevitable truth. So we need to start finding other options for our electricity as our population continues to grow. So with that, moving over to zero-carbon energy is going to be a crucial thing. I’m excited to talk about… all these different types of energy options that we have and how our homes can help make a difference in the globe.”
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Stanke is also eager to share her love for the Midwest as she embarks on traveling the country. “The ‘Midwest nice’ is very real,” she said. “That’s one thing that I love about my home state. One thing I’m excited to bring to the job of Miss America as I travel across the country is sharing that little bit of Wisconsin culture, of just saying, ‘Hey, let me hold the door open for you.’ The little things that can make… someone’s day. It’s just a piece of Wisconsin that I love. I’m going to present 100 percent of myself,” she added. “That’s the most important thing. My family and friends know that as well. I’m Miss America, but I’m also just me.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.