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Miss America Cara Mund calls for service, equity at UND event

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Miss America, Cara Mund of Bismarck, signs an autograph for Alexy Safranski's 4-year-old niece, Elise Davey of Warren, MN, who has cancer. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 3
Miss America, Cara Mund of Bismarck, shares a laugh during the annual Women for Philanthropy luncheon hosted by the UND Alumni Foundation at the Gorecki Alumni Center Tuesday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald3 / 3

Almost half a year after claiming the Miss America crown, Cara Mund wears it well.

The pageant winner and Bismarck native has been living on the road for more than six months now as she works through the year of service that comes with the title and its $50,000 scholarship prize. But for someone whose life is now packed into two suitcases, Mund, 23, was true to Miss America form Tuesday while delivering the keynote address at the Women for Philanthropy luncheon on the UND campus.

In some respects, she was an ideal candidate to speak to the organization.

Philanthropy, which she described at various points as a daily value, features heavily in her own background. The daughter of a cancer survivor, Mund told the gathered women how she organized a charity fashion show at the age of 14 for a friend with the disease. When the proceeds from the event—which went to fund her friend's request to the Make-A-Wish Foundation—grew far beyond expectations, Mund said it was "the logical thing to do" to keep it running. Now, almost a decade after that first show, she's raised almost $80,000 for the Foundation's work.

A graduate of Brown University with plans to attend law school, Mund also spoke to her dedication to empowering women, an interest shared by many of those who came to hear her speak. Mund said she'd recently penned a yet-to-be published article for Washington political outlet The Hill on the subject of getting more women into politics, a concept she illustrated with an anecdote from one of her experiences as Miss America.

This past fall, she attended the State of the Union address as a guest of Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., whom she had previously worked for in Washington.

For Mund—who drew a round of applause from the audience when sharing her aspirations to be North Dakota's first female governor—the event was an opportunity to meet political idols in person. It was also a reminder of gender imbalance in Congress.

"When I got up to the gallery and was looking over, it was really difficult to figure out the number of women and I had a really hard time just finding a woman on the floor," she said, citing the current Senate female demographic as only 23 percent of the whole. "The issues that are facing our society right now are issues that affect both genders, and we do make up half the population, so why don't we have more women in those leadership positions?"

Mund said the lack of equal representation even manifests itself in the physical space of the Capitol building. When she sought a restroom, she had a tough time finding one—the reason for that being that women's rooms were a late addition to the Capitol, with facilities only added off the House side in 2011.

For someone with political ambitions, winning the Miss America pageant isn't a bad place to start. The role has its similarities to a political campaign, complete with all the requisite hand-shaking and photo opps. There's also the constant change of scenery. Mund said she's been travelling 20,000 miles a month, changing locations nearly every 48 hours for public appearances and other events.

Still, despite the potential grind of a role that packs its entire being into a yearlong spell, Mund described the position as the "job of a lifetime."

"You get to give back to communities, you get to empower women and you get to show everybody what it means to be a North Dakotan," she said.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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