RENO, Nev. (AP) — Cheslie Kryst, a 27-year-old lawyer from North Carolina who represents prison inmates for free, won the 2019 Miss USA title Thursday night in a diverse field that included teachers, nurses and members of the military.
Alejandra Gonzalez of New Mexico was the first-runner up, and Oklahoma’s Triana Browne the second-runner up during the competition in Reno, Nevada.
Kryst earned a law degree and an MBA at Wake Forest University before becoming a civil litigation attorney who does pro bono work to reduce sentences for inmates. She said during the final round that she was glad to be competing in Nevada partly because it’s the first and only state in the nation with female majorities in both houses of the state legislature.
Earlier, she told a story of how she’ll never forget the time a judge at a law conference told her to wear a skirt instead of pants because judges prefer skirts. She said her colleagues at her law firm back home in North Carolina were having a watch-party Thursday night to see how she did on television.
“Glass ceilings can be broken wearing either a skirt or pants,” Kryst said.
She and Gonzalez faced each other holding hands during the moments before the winner was announced, then embraced with the news.
Browne helped underscore the wide diversity among the 51 contestants, saying she’s a proud member of the Chickasaw Nation whose father is white and mother is African American. She’s in a partnership with Nike to promote a brand that celebrates Native American heritage.
Gonzalez, whose mother immigrated to the United States from Mexico, has a master’s degree in accounting and founded a nonprofit that teaches children the importance of being literate.
Nevada’s Tianna Tuamoheloa, who made it to the final five, was the first woman of Samoan decent to ever compete in the event that dates to 1952. Savannah Skidmore, a former state basketball champion from Arkansas who has a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo and is pursuing a law degree, also made the final five.
Kryst, who advances to the Miss Universe competition, was crowned by 2018 Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers of Nebraska.
President Donald Trump used to own the Miss Universe Organization, which previously ran the Miss USA pageant with NBCUniversal.
After Trump drew criticism for making anti-immigrant remarks in announcing his presidential bid in 2015, the network and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision cut ties with him, refusing to air the show.
Trump sued both networks, eventually settling and selling the pageant to talent management company WME/IMG, now called Endeavor.