By Magdalene MichalikEDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Kira Kazantsev, Miss New York and 2013 graduate of Hofstra University, was crowned Miss America on Sept. 15 in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
Along with the title, Kazantsev won a $50,000 scholarship to continue her education as she embarks on her yearlong national speaking tour about her personal platform. She will embark as official National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, the national platform of the Miss America Organization. This was the third time in a row that Miss New York won the competition.
“I keep reliving the moment over and over again because it’s a one-time thing,” Kazantsev said. “I’m going to get as much out of my year as I can and be the best Miss America that I can be.”
The 23-year-old is the daughter of Russian immigrants and is first generation American. She was born and raised in California and attended Las Lomas High School, where she served as junior class president, student body president and varsity cheer captain during her senior year.
“I was very involved in leadership activities and anything that had to do with events, homecoming or graduation,” Kazantsev said.
She had also lived in Chicago, Kentucky and Texas before moving to Hofstra University for college. This is her sixth year living in New York.
“During my senior year [of high school], I was accepted to Hofstra and they gave me a great scholarship,” Kazantsev said. “It was a wonderful opportunity and I always wanted to be in New York, so I took it.”
Kazantsev was part of the Honors College and triple majored in political science, global studies and geography. She also took a variety of dance classes.
Outside of the classroom, Kazantsev was a member of Phi Eta Sigma, the first-year honor society, and Gamma Theta Upsilon, the geographical honor society. She was also a Pride Guide and she participated in the 2012 Town Hall-style Presidential Debate held at Hofstra University.
In addition, Kazantsev interned at Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office in Washington, D.C., at Planned Parenthood in Hempstead and at Solidarity Strategies for two summers in Washington, D.C. She also worked at Bloomingdale’s in Roosevelt Field Mall and the Cheesecake Factory.
After her year as Miss America, Kazantsev plans to go to law school and receive her Masters in Business Administration.
Kazantsev has always been passionate about achieving her goals. She began competing in pageants when she was 11 years old. She received a pamphlet in the mail for a pageant that promoted events that did not allow contestants to wear makeup until they were 13.
“I asked my mom if I could do it and she finally gave in and let me do it,” Kazantsev said. “I loved it because I got to perform, interview with judges and it just gave me a great skill set of people skills and networking.”
Two years ago, she decided to try the Miss America Organization.
“It’s so easy to get connected with people who are putting on big events and their main constituencies are there, so it was really easy to get involved…You’re able to do cool, glamorous stuff but at the same time you’re at the meat of the issues, the heart of these people and organizations,” Kazantsev said.
As Miss New York, Kazantsev brought the culture of the Miss America organization to New York City. According to Kazantsev, she needed to make herself as relevant as possible in a city that doesn’t care about pageants. Her goal was to make sure that people were listening, that they cared and that she educated them about the organization.
Preparing for the competition included practicing interview skills and walking, eating healthy, working out and going to events to have as much content as possible to talk about if she won the title.
For the talent portion of the competition, Kazantsev sat on the ground and presented a vocal performance of the song, “Happy,” while playing a red cup – Anna Kendrick, “Cups” style. According to Kazantsev, the talent competition gave her the chance to show a fun side of her personality and what kind of Miss America she would be.
“I really wanted to do something different – that has always been my trademark,” Kazantsev said. “My talent doubles as a way for me to connect with kids… as ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. So, I can take my little red plastic cup, go to a hospital and sit on the ground and make these kids happy and smile. That’s the whole point.”
The on-stage question portion of the competition asks the top eight finalists questions that are timely and hot topics on the news. Each contestant has 20 seconds to respond. When asked what the record 20 women in Congress should focus on, she spoke about the sexual assault of women in the military.
“When I was an intern with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of her main causes that she fights for is sexual assault in the military and how to prevent it with legal policy measures… it is very important to me because 20 percent of women who enter into our military experience some sort of sexual assault or abuse and I think that women and men should be respected for their service,” Kazantsev said.
Kazantsev’s response to the on-stage question ties into her platform, “Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Protecting Women Against Domestic Violence.” She is an advocate for domestic violence victims and will bring her personal platform to a national level as Miss America.
“I want people to understand that being in a relationship like that is basically like a disease. You can’t just leave. There are so many extenuating circumstances – you’ve been manipulated, or child issues, or monetary issues, or safety threats where your life of your family’s life could be at risk if you do leave this person...If we can start the conversation as much as possible and make it as loud as possible, then we can do something about it,” she said.
According to Kazantsev, when Miss America host Chris Harrison announced that the winner was a “three-peat,” she knew it only meant one thing: that she had won.
In addition to taking her personal platform to a national level and acting as the official National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Kazantsev will advocate for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) path careers for women, as Miss America.
“I want to inspire women to know that they can do whatever they want because the fact that you’re a woman has nothing to do with those goals,” Kazantsev said.
As Sunday marked Kazantsev’s first week of being Miss America, she said that the hardest part so far is being so visible in the public eye. “The transition of being a regular person to having the whole world watching, judging and criticizing is hard, so I have to make sure I have a thick skin and make sure I don’t let any of that negativity affect my psyche,” Kazantsev said.
The Miss America Organization has recently partnered with Dick Clark Productions, which according to Kazantsev, will allow her to assume a Miss America role like no other previous titleholder has done before.
“I’m going to be one of the most visible Miss Americas that ever has been because of the events I’ll be doing high-profile things that are going to come of this year, so I’m excited to grow the organization as much as possible.” Kazantsev said.