A 27-year-old lawyer from North Carolina who represents prison inmates for free won the Miss USA title Thursday night, describing herself as a “weird kid” with a “unibrow” who’s now part of the first generation of truly empowered women.
Asked in the final round to use one word to summarize her generation, Cheslie Kryst of Charlotte said “innovative.”
“I’m standing here in Nevada, in the state that has the first female majority legislature in the entire country,” she said at the event held for the first time in Reno. “Mine is the first generation to have that forward-looking mindset that has inclusivity, diversity, strength and empowered women. I’m looking forward to continued progress in my generation.”
New Mexico’s Alejandra Gonzalez, the first runner-up, and Oklahoma’s Triana Browne, the second runner-up, helped highlight the diversity of the competition on stage as the three finalists along with Kryst, who is African American.
Browne said 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, 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 descent to 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 and Gonzalez faced each other holding hands during the moments before the winner was announced, then embraced with the news.
Kryst said she didn’t feel nervous as she advanced through the elimination rounds.
“I just kept hearing my name get called,” she said. As she waited for the winner to be announced, “All I could think was, ‘This is really cool.’ “
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. In a videotaped message played during the two-hour event at a hotel-casino, she told a story of when a judge at a legal competition told her to wear a skirt instead of pants because judges prefer skirts.