Someday, when I have a few more wrinkles and wisps of white in my hair, I know I’ll look back at these photos and show them to my grandchildren.
And I’ll share with them a few memories from the time long ago when I competed at the 100th Anniversary Competition of Miss America — as a part of the most incredible class of inspiring women.
I’ll tell them how proud I was to wear North Dakota boldly across my chest.
And about how radiant I felt, and how that is a perfectly fine feeling to experience — in fact, everyone should feel that way in life.
And most importantly, I’ll remind and encourage those kiddos to chase after their dreams - both the big and the small - because you never know where those dreams might take you.
They might even bring you to the Miss America stage.
I had three simple goals upon arriving at Miss America:
Or, in other words:
💫 Give my very best (both on the stage and off).
💫 Cultivate lifelong friendships.
💫 Spread joy.
Beyond these goals, I didn’t expect much else. Of course, it would have been amazing to make it into the Top Ten. However, my worth was never dependent on my placement, and I felt honored to be standing there amidst a class of talented, hardworking, and deserving women.
Before I left, my friend Kristian Eikevik prayed over me and shared that he was praying for “Ruthless Joy,” and those words were on my heart the entire week.
I wrote these words the night that Emma was crowned the 100th Miss America:
“Ruthless J O Y. 💫
So many more words and stories to come, but for now I’m simply feeling overwhelmed by love and thankfulness. I will undoubtedly remember this day fondly for the rest of my life. What an honor, privilege, and blessing this journey has been.
Here’s to another century of empowering and equipping America’s women to be the leaders of today and tomorrow. This is only the beginning.”
What will I remember from my Miss America experience?
1. My class. They are truly a phenomenal group of women and were hands down the BEST part of the entire experience. They are real, inclusive, hardworking, talented, motivated, passionate, kind, with the biggest most genuine hearts. I am forever inspired by them.
2. Watching Emma Broyles, Miss Alaska, crowned as Miss America. That was a surreal experience and I had chills covering my entire body. Running forward to hug her… I remember looking up as our entire class had circled her and she was about a foot away from me. Her eyes were massive - like a deer in the headlights - and I wondered if she was going to be okay. (Good news, she is indeed okay and thriving in her new role. I'm super proud of her.)
3. Of course, there were a few stressful parts throughout the week. (These moments *do not* overshadow the good parts — just being real.)
I remember feeling frustrated after finals because we quickly had to pack up all of our things and were rushed out. Talk about adding stress to an already stressful experience (not necessary). The backstage dressing room for finals was also TINY — we were literally on top of each other. I sat between Sapna (Miss CT) and Vivian (Miss MI) and were were literally bumping elbows the entire time. Good thing we could laugh about it, hah. I also remember feeling super stressed trying to memorize my pitch the day of competition. (*Note to our future Miss North Dakota or anyone competing: do not wait until the last minute to rewrite your pitch and memorize it.)
Looking back, I am beyond grateful for my Miss America experience. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. But then again, perfection is rarely guaranteed in this life. Undoubtedly, there is room for improvement going into next year’s competition, but as for myself, I’m choosing not to dwell on the “what could have beens or should have beens” but instead am choosing to look back and remember with joy and gratefulness.
I remember distinctly thinking during the afternoon of finals of Thursday, December 16: "I want to look back at this day with joy, to remember it fondly and as one of the best days of my life."
I can proudly and happily say that I know I will be able to do just that.
Below are a few social posts that I shared during my time in Connecticut.
“Ruthless j o y. 💫
That’s what I’ve been trying to channel this entire week, and my main goal heading into the interview room this morning was to focus that positive energy (and perhaps some Star Wars vibes 😉) and be 100% authentically me. For a fast ten minutes, I talked with an incredible panel about why I should be the next Miss America. I shared why I believe our nation needs a Miss America who is approachable, relatable, and real and a figure who will connect people in a time when we need connection more than ever before.
And… why I believe I could be that woman. 🥰
Thank you for all of the kind messages of encouragement, love, and prayers. I am so proud and humbled to be representing North Dakota and to have this opportunity of a lifetime. ❤️
Miss America Interview ✔️🇺🇸”
“Forever honored to have this moment in time where I get to wear North Dakota boldly across my chest. North Dakota, I hope to make you proud tonight. To my entire village, thank you for loving on me and supporting me every step of the way.
In just a couple of hours, the 100th Miss America will be crowned.
Thy Will be Done.”
I am forever grateful for this experience. While I'm continuing to process and reflect, I know without a doubt that this experience reminded me of the importance and impact of having community, and that was undoubtedly the best part: feeling surrounded by my incredible family and friends — both new and old.
Here's to another century of empowering and equipping women with tools for success, impact, and love.
On November 10, 2021 I had the opportunity to address the North Dakota House of Representatives and Senate at the Capitol during the Special Session. Below are the words I shared with North Dakota's congressmen and woman. A special thank you to Representatives Brandy Pyle and Michelle Strinden for the opportunity and for escorting me.
Good afternoon, congressmen and women --
I am humbled and honored to be standing in front of you today.
Having grown up and lived a majority of my life in Fargo, I am proud to claim North Dakota as my home. As mentioned in that introduction, I’m a fifth generation North Dakotan, and I take pride in my midwest roots and value system that stems from generations of independent yet community minded individuals.
That service oriented perspective is a trait that I believe is essential to being Miss North Dakota. Although it might appear glamorous, this job is not all about the sparkles — it’s a year of service which entails traveling around the state to serve alongside, speak, and listen to people.
At 26, I am the oldest Miss North Dakota to ever wear the crown and compete for the job of Miss America. Women between the ages of 18 and 26 are eligible to compete in any local competition, whether she be a ND resident or attending a ND school, and if she wins a title can move on to the state competition.
I competed in my first local competition in 2015 while a freshman at Concordia. I learned about the opportunity from a friend, fellow Fargo-native Jacky Arness, who was Miss North Dakota at the time. She informed me that the Miss America Organization is the nation’s largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women and that cash scholarships are awarded at both the local and state competitions.
Upon learning this, I figured I had nothing to lose, and signed up three days before the last local competition of the season. The day of the competition came and I was thrilled to win my first local title, which meant that I’d compete for the job of Miss North Dakota a few months later. Although I didn’t become Miss North Dakota that first year (of which I was glad), I got to sample something that I would grow to love even more in the years that followed. I was inspired by the service minded women I found myself competing with, while also gaining a community within both the Miss North Dakota and Miss America Organizations.
The Miss America Organization’s mission statement is, “Prepare great women for the world; prepare the world for great women.” The organization embodies a network of positive role models who are influencing their spheres–both geographically and digitally–in every single state. Regardless of whether they’re wearing a sparkly hat on their head, the women involved are working to make positive changes in their communities by using their voices to educate others on social impact initiatives of their own choosing. They are public servants, doers, and change-makers, and they use the resources of the organization to help them expand and reach their goals.
I’ve always wanted to be a role model, especially for young people. And consequently, I
continued to compete and be involved with the organization. I earned second runner up in my first and second year competing at Miss ND, and won first runner up in my third year in 2019. During those years, I felt the rush of coming so close to winning and this helped push and motivate me to work harder — and to remain patient and persistent. While I was set to compete in 2020, the pandemic postponed the event to 2021 which is what ultimately “grandfathered” me in, and allowed me to become one of the oldest candidates to ever compete in the history of the organization. Throughout the months leading up to the state competition, I didn’t give up on my dream, but continued to prepare to the best of my abilities. And, on June 12th, 2021, after my fourth and final try, my longtime dream became a reality and I was crowned Miss North Dakota.
As Miss North Dakota, I am thrilled to be sharing the message of my social impact initiative which is called, “The Influencer Era: Impact Beyond The Screen.” My goal is to emphasize the importance of communication skills and face-to-face connection, especially with students. In this digital era that we currently live in with online influencers dominating the social foreground, ‘Impacting Beyond the Screen’ is a message about intentionally showing up for others in person by being a real life, in person influencer. Face-to-face interactions are crucial because bonds are strengthened when reinforced by the physical. Things like looking another person in the eyes, giving a hug, or simply nodding and smiling while you listen emphasizes the fact that you are there for them. As Miss North Dakota, I believe that it’s important to remind people that
every one of us has what it takes to make a positive difference where we are right now, in digital spaces but even more importantly in our face to face interactions. The place where each of us finds ourselves is no accident, and the people in front of us hold purpose, meaning, and worth.
And it’s that impact and influence which ultimately makes a difference in this world.
I believe that by encouraging adolescents and adults alike to listen and share their story, they can find influence in their own unique way. I believe this will help foster more communicative people in our state, a legacy I would be proud to leave as Miss North Dakota.
I am humbled and honored to serve North Dakota this coming year, to share this message, and to represent my home at the 100th Anniversary Competition of Miss America next month — on December 16th — in Mystic, Connecticut.
I want to leave you with a few words, from one of my favorite role models - a designer,
storyteller, and mother of five - Joanna Gaines. She is a hardworking woman who embodies what it means to be an influencer not just online, but also with those that she meets in her daily life. She wrote these words in the most recent publication of her magazine, the Magnolia Journal:
“I’m sick of feeling stuck in the muck and mire of a social culture that is robbing us all of deep and true connection — of joy, peace, honest understanding, and empathy. Maybe you are too. And maybe now is the time to declare that we’re not willing to give that up. Not yet. Not when they are the very things that make life worth living and loving. We have somehow fooled ourselves into thinking that real connection is too hard to come by these days. But I’ve witnessed too many moments that prove otherwise. A shared moment of beauty, a glimpse of humor, of lightness, of heroic pursuits, of people living for one another — and I’m convinced all over again that there is more light than dark, more life than death, more hope than anger, more joy than sorrow, more gratitude among us than we sometimes remember. So let’s fight for a world that won’t so easily forget. A world that is slow to anger and rich in compassion. A world that would rather be loving than be right. A world that keeps moving forward. And I can think of
no better time than now.”
I am deeply grateful and humbled to be in this role and to serve my home, North Dakota, a place that has forever impacted and molded me. God has guided me to where I am today, and while it hasn't been the most direct path, or the one that I may have chosen for myself, it’s one I believe was meant to be. It’s been His plan all along and I am but a part in His grand plan. I find myself saying this phrase over and over again in my life, and I will say it again, “Thy will be done.”
I am SO EXCITED for this year! I am not here because of me. There is a larger plan in place, and I am just a small part of that plan and I am excited to see where that takes me. I am especially thankful to my community of North Dakota. It takes a village, and I am grateful that role has been filled by the caring, loyal, and hardworking people of North Dakota.
Six years ago, I boarded a train bound for Williston to compete in my first state competition of Miss North Dakota.
It was June 2015 and the summer following my freshman year of college. I was nineteen and a fresh-faced newbie arriving for my first visit to Williston from Montana, where I had just finished a week of camp counselor training. While I was excited to be competing for the job of Miss North Dakota, I had just experienced a fulfilling week of outdoor adventure — sleeping out under the stars each night, singing my heart out around campfires, along with dreaming about the adventures that I knew were on the brink of happening that summer. And then, after one week, I packed my bag and headed home to North Dakota. I left my fellow staff feeling sad because I felt in my heart that I wanted to return; and yet, I was excited to dive headfirst into another world that upcoming week: a world of strong women, high heels, and service-focused individuals — a week surrounded by the individuals, traditions, and community of Miss North Dakota.
On that Sunday of competition week, I moved into the Williston State College dorms feeling slightly wobbly in my platform heels and freshly shaven legs, and yet, thrilled for the days to come.
I was not disappointed — the following days were incredible, and in many ways, reminded me of being at camp (as strange as that might sound). I quickly found myself bonding and laughing with the other girls, meeting people throughout the city of Williston, and learning about the traditions and legacy of the Miss North Dakota Pageant. While it may have appeared to be a completely different environment than Bible camp, some things were the same: I found myself around excited and passionate individuals who were ready, willing, and already making an impact in the world.
The week flew by and upon finals night, I found myself torn. I desperately wanted to win, and yet in my heart I knew the timing was not right… not yet anyway. That evening I was thrilled and humbled to place second runner-up and say “World Peace” in my on-stage interview. (A very proud moment!) I returned the following year and had similar feelings… I wanted it… but in my heart I could sense God saying: “Not yet.” I did not win but was again humbled to be chosen as second runner-up.
After a three-year hiatus which entailed living in Washington D.C., graduating from college, and starting my first “big girl” job — I returned for what I believed to be my third and final shot at winning the crown. I thought that this was “it;” it was finally my time: I was going to be Miss North Dakota and have the chance to serve and represent my state.
But then, it didn’t happen. And the funny thing is, I felt complete peace with the outcome. I knew I had given it my best and therefore accepted the fact that it wasn’t meant to be and that other opportunities were around the corner. Throughout my years of competing for Miss North Dakota I put my trust in the Lord’s plan and timing. I didn’t doubt Him; although, I will admit that it was at times often a challenge to be patient. But hindsight often brings clarity, and I can now openly say that I am able to look back and clearly see how God’s plan was at work. When I pause and reflect, it sometimes hits me just how beautifully it worked out… I never could have known. But our Creator did.
I had fully intended to be done competing in 2019; however, January of 2020 in the dead of winter I again felt God tugging at my heart and an inner voice saying: “Come on, Reyn. give it just one more go. One more time — what do you have to lose?”
And so, I did.
But then, *SURPRISE*, two weeks following that local competition a pandemic struck the world. COVID-19 became the new reality for all of us. Seemingly everything was either canceled or postponed, along with the 2020 Miss North Dakota Competition.
And so, my year instead became one of practicing patience and being intentional with preparation. Three months until the state competition stretched to fifteen — nearly a year and a half. For the sake of trying to keep this piece a blog (rather than a book), I’m not going to describe in depth the details of preparation; however, I will say that it was a lot. A lot of energy, time, research, collaboration, practice, (more practice), sweat, grit, and prayer.
During this time, I technically aged out (Miss America currently has an age limit of twenty-five); however, I was grandfathered in due to the pandemic, which means I am officially one of the oldest candidates to ever have competed for the job of Miss North Dakota, and now Miss America — a fact that I’m proud of!
The evening of June 12, 2021 a new Miss North Dakota was chosen to serve and represent the state of North Dakota. Determined by a panel of judges, it’s a subjective choice, and yet, throughout the week (and long before) I hoped and prayed that I could prove to those judges why they should choose me.
And this time, they did.
While I never expected it, I knew in my heart that the timing was finally right. I felt peace throughout the final night of competition; everything felt like it was falling into place. When they announced my name as “Miss North Dakota 2021” it was the most surreal moment I’ve ever experienced. It was a moment that I had envisioned for years, and when it finally happened… there are no words. I will never be able to effectively articulate the immense gratitude and joy that I felt in that instant.
But that night and every day thereafter I’ve been ready for the unique role and honor of serving as Miss North Dakota.
I am ready to connect and love on people.
I am ready to be inspired by all of the individuals that I’ll be so lucky to meet and grow in relationship with this coming year.
I am ready to share my social impact, “The Influencer Era: Impact Beyond the Screen”, with all people but especially kids — a message about the importance of connecting with one another beyond our devices.
I am deeply grateful and humbled to be in this role and to serve my home, North Dakota, a place that has forever impacted and molded me.
I am ready to impact and be impacted as your Miss North Dakota 2021.
There are many people and groups I would like to thank:
I am SO EXCITED for this year! I am not here because of me. There is a larger plan in place, and I am just a small part of that plan. I am especially thankful to my community; it takes a village, always.
Ok, I’ve said enough for now.
Let’s DO THIS, North Dakota!
Your Miss North Dakota 2021,
This was me when I was ten years old.
Some might be bold enough to call me an “ugly duckling” (my sister being one) and I would wholeheartedly agree.
I’ve never thought of myself as the pretty girl, because growing up, I wasn’t — at least not by society’s standards. I had thicker legs, a round tummy, squinty eyes, and crooked teeth that didn’t quite fill my too wide of a smile. I was rarely noticed or praised for my looks.
It was sometime during high school that I recall first being appreciated for my outward beauty, and to be completely honest, nearly a decade later of this being “normal”, I still am not used to it. That’s not to say that I haven’t minded — I don’t think there’s a woman (or person of any gender!) alive who can’t say that they don’t mind being admired by others for their beauty.
And yet, there’s a sense of strangeness to it all. Outward beauty is completely subjective, and yet, there are certain beauty ideals that every culture on earth claims — standards that are constantly evolving with time. So, if we’re given one body and yet told by society every few years that we must change our looks to keep up with the trends in order to be deemed beautiful, it becomes exhausting.
And yet, boy, we sure try.
Perhaps we should stop trying to keep up — some people choose this and I admire them for it. They choose to embrace the parts of themselves that make them unique and to own these aspects that define who they are. They are seemingly free.
I’m slowly learning to embrace such a freedom — that I too can be who I was intended to be. It’s a simple concept, and yet, I have struggled to own the way I look my entire life.
I think that’s one arena where becoming involved with the Miss America Organization has helped me. I’ve learned to embrace this side of who I am, and that it is indeed okay to feel outwardly gorgeous, even stunning at times. But also, that it’s alright to not always feel outwardly radiant. I’m realizing that we shouldn’t feel an obligation to prove to the world that we’re their current definition of beauty, but that we should feel confident, proud, and unashamed of the unique way we were designed. And even without all the makeup and glam, we are just as beautiful when we’re living it up in our pajamas with damp hair fresh out of the shower.
Quite honestly, in my mind the most beautiful people are those who carry themselves with humble confidence, who radiate joy and kindness, and are completely true to their authentic selves. That’s what I strive for — to be true to myself and not desperate for the approval of others.
I desire to be free.
And while displaying qualities of freedom, joy, and confidence, I believe that true beauty can be achieved — regardless of any culture, circumstances, or time period.
When I was 13, I lived in Costa Rica for a month with a host family.
During those few weeks I attempted to practice my Spanish, give up my love of sweets (this was a fail — my host-mom willingly obliged to my sweet tooth and treated me to ice cream every couple of days), and learn about the beautiful culture of Costa Rica. I saw Pixar’s “Up” in theaters, cried like a baby in the first ten minutes (even though I could barely understand a word because it was in Spanish) and was introduced to the world of acrylic painting by my host mom. I went to school with my host sister for a few days, visited an active volcano, picked ripe mangoes and lemons, and even had the opportunity to try yoga for the first time. And despite feeling slightly uncomfortable because I couldn’t understand much that was being said around me, I found the experience to be amazing.
In order to get there I flew internationally as an unaccompanied minor — which, at the time was pretty much the coolest thing EVER. In the airports I met kids from around the world and was able to hang out in designated lounges with *free* food specifically for U.M.’s. It was basically the equivalent of flying Sky Priority for a kid and yes, it was the sh**.
As much as I would like to take credit for the idea, it was actually my dad’s. We have a history with this family in Costa Rica — when they were in grade school the mom of this family lived with my dad’s family, my aunt then went to live with her, and years later her daughter lived with us, and it’s gone back and forth time and time again (did you follow that??). So, naturally my dad thought it would be appropriate that I live with them for a time, too.
And I was all about it.
Since I was young, I’ve been captivated by the idea of traveling and seeing the world — to have opportunities to explore and have conversations + experiences with people who have different backgrounds from my own. To this day, it might be the thing that excites me the most -- to learn more about this vast yet beautiful world from these alternative points of view.
I think there’s such value in this — in seeing others’ perspectives. It’s something that I’m striving to attempt every single day: to have empathy and enduring patience in perceiving the world and everyday situations from others’ viewpoints. In our current and ever increasing political and polarized world, I believe it’s imperative that we practice this: to open up our minds, have empathy, and truly listen — to listen to hear rather than to formulate a ready response.
Seeing the world from other contexts restores my appreciation for my own life, opens my mind to just how vast and complex our world is, and reminds me of the good that exists in every moment.
THIS is why I travel.
written October 2020 //
That’s the word that keeps on coming to mind when I think about this season of life that we’re currently experiencing. Some days I view it positively - as a form of being content and at peace, and others… I feel plain ol’ restless. Stuck, and patiently waiting for the next chapter, whatever that might be. I’m ready to turn a page, to jump! And yet, I feel bound - anchored - to this current season.
Can anyone relate?
I was recently reading the fall edition of the Magnolia Journal (you know, cause I’m unapologetically obsessed with anything and everything to do with Joanna Gaines) and I came upon these words from her:
“So often I think we view anchors as negatives, things that might keep us stagnant and prevent us from pushing forward into new territories. And I know in my own life, there have been moments when I have questioned these natural tendencies and the routines and habits I hold fast to. I have wondered if I might live more freely without them.
However, when I pause to look closely, more and more I have come to see that these anchors are what keep me from floating away into places where I don’t want to be or that I’m just not ready for yet. Instead of stifling me, they actually provide a safe place for me to grow and explore and be. Anchors still allow their boats to float and move — to find a rhythm the waves around them. Their purpose is simply to keep a boat from drifting so far off course that it’s difficult to recover.”
The anchors of our life can be significant things like faith, prayer, meditation, but they can also be seemingly small and mundane like cooking, reading, running. The magical thing is that they somehow offer a place of refuge in the ever changing landscapes of our lives.”
Our time is coming, dear friends. Be patient. And cherish these anchors — both metaphorically and physically — while you have them.
currently lives in Fargo, North Dakota where she works remotely as a Policy and Communication Manager for the First Lady of North Dakota. Photography and writing are a passion that help her better appreciate the details of the world.