Stepping into her shoes: Lizzie Jensen takes over as Miss North Dakota
FARGO — As Miss North Dakota Cara Mund was crowned Miss America on Sept. 8, Lizzie Jensen was backstage, watching and crying happy tears. Then suddenly, an official with the Miss North Dakota Scholarship Organization turned to Jensen and welcomed her into a new title of her own.
The crowning of North Dakota's first Miss America meant Jensen, first runner-up to Mund at the state-level pageant in June, would be the new Miss North Dakota, if she wanted to be.
"We were all already ugly crying because Cara had just won, then I was really ugly crying," Jensen said. "I finally pulled myself together, and we went to take pictures."
Jensen, who competed as Miss West Fargo for the Miss North Dakota title, was allowed some time to decide whether she wanted to take over the title of Miss North Dakota.
She talked to those in line for the crown behind her, as well as runner-ups from out of state.
"I wanted to make sure the title is taken care of," Jensen said. "I didn't want to have no Miss North Dakota because we had a Miss America this year."
Everyone encouraged her to take the reins, but a new rule also helped make her decision. Until this year, pageant contestants could not compete past the age of 24. But rules were changed making the age window 18-25, meaning Jensen, 23, can assume the role of Miss North Dakota and return to compete for the state title in June. A second year as Miss North Dakota would be followed by a shot at Miss America.
"Being Miss North Dakota is the best preparation for being Miss America," Jensen said.
North Dakota ties
Jensen, a Stillwater, Minn., native, has lived in Fargo for six years but has long had ties to the state, regularly visiting family here. Her mother is from Harvey, N.D. Jensen attended North Dakota State University for two years and is now a Minnesota State Community and Technical College student on the path to becoming a surgical assistant.
For most of her life, Jensen had wanted to compete in pageants. But her family was unable to afford the high cost of pageant life, and the dream fell by the wayside until Jensen moved to Fargo. While working here, the opportunity to compete for Miss Peace Garden was brought to her attention.
Jensen, who was working full time and could now afford to pay for her own pageant needs, signed up, bought an evening dress just three days before the competition and went for it.
"It was my very first pageant. I tripped and fell, but I still got the title," Jensen said. "It was so much fun."
As part of the 2017 Miss North Dakota competition, Jensen performed Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
While Jensen has held other titles, she is already noticing a higher degree of notoriety that comes with the Miss North Dakota title.
"It is weird being noticed," Jensen said. "I'm still Lizzie, I just have a fancier crown now."
Jensen said she's been confused with Mund now and then. When Jensen has corrected the Miss America fans, they are sometimes disappointed, but she doesn't mind.
The best part
For Jensen, the best part of being Miss North Dakota isn't fame, instead it's the opportunities the title has brought. It allows her to tout her platform, #IAmMore, spread her message of anti-bullying and building self-worth. Jensen was raised primarily by her mother and suffered under the words of bullies for about 10 years. She developed an eating disorder that she eventually conquered.
Jensen began her reign Sept. 25 with appearances in Williston, N.D., the home of the Miss North Dakota Scholarship Organization, and she's begun to book more appearances across the state.
Jensen said visits to schools are some of the most important to her. She said when she talks to students, she is open and vulnerable. Sharing her many experiences makes her relatable to a wide range of students.
"Lizzie is very passionate and has a heart for her platform — anti-bullying and self-worth," said Kathy Jones, executive director of the Miss North Dakota Scholarship Organization. "She has a very relevant message to bring to the schools across our state, and we are excited to have her as our Miss North Dakota."
Jensen said she hopes she can work with North Dakota officials to create a comprehensive approach through state rules to stamp out bullying in schools.
As Miss North Dakota, she also has set a goal to raise $50,000 for the Children's Miracle Network and eventually purchase two rooms at Sanford Hospital in the names of patients she was close to while working as a phlebotomist at Sanford.
Beyond pageant life, Jensen hopes to someday work in trauma or organ donation departments at Fargo's Sanford Hospital or the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
"I'm really interested in (organ donation) because it's giving someone a second chance in life," she said.