Jun 16, 2014 05:10 AM EDT
Rutgers Student Crowned Miss New Jersey
Cierra Kaler-Jones, a Rutgers University student, overcame all obstacles to win the Miss New Jersey pageant Saturday night at the Ocean City Music Pier. The first runner-up was Brenna Weick of Mantua and last year's winner was Cara McCollum.
Competing the pageant for the fourth time, the 21-year-old Galloway Township resident wooed the judges with her platform of "Empowering Today's Youth Through Arts" and her dance to Beyonce's "Listen."
Kaler-Jones actually wanted to give up after being placed in the top 5 during last year's pageant.
"Last year I made third-runner up, I said I made top 5 - I'm fine I don't need to compete again. My parents said they wanted me to give it one more shot," Kaler-Jones said. "I'm so glad they did," NJ reports.
Dancing to perfection might not have been certainly easy for Kaler-Jones, who was born with a developmental dysplasia of the hips. She had to wear a Pavlik harness for the hip ball and socket joint to develop correctly.
"Dance was my way of feeling like I was normal. Even now it is difficult and my hips are still a bit misaligned. I will never be able to do a split. But I believe things happened for a reason and you grow from your challenges. My issue makes me very relatable to children who have a disability, or anyone who it poor or a minority. Anyone who struggles with something," Kaler-Jones said, Rutgers reports.
Kaler-Jones, who is studying social work through the School of Arts and Sciences honors program, will receive a $12,000 scholarship from the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation. The Rutgers Senior will also be accepting scholarship money totaling more than $50,000.
With the victory, Kaler-Jones has cemented a place in the Miss America pageant to be held from September 9-14 in Atlantic City.
"We have had one minority Miss New Jersey in the history of Miss America," said Kaler-Jones in a statement. "Why can't I be the one to win and to inspire other minority girls? That's why I go back."
Kaler-Jones, a first-generation college student, is a member of the nationally ranked Rutgers University dance team. She aspires to become an education law and policy advocate to shape curriculum for better engagement for all students.
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