‘Know who you are’: Miss USA shares advice with Fort Mill students during visit

When Cheslie Kryst was a senior at Fort Mill High School in 2009, she walked across a stage wearing a crown and sash as Miss Fort Mill High School.

She returned to the same stage a decade later, wearing yet another crown and sash representing one of the highest honors a beauty queen can have — the title of Miss USA. The Charlotte corporate attorney won the pageant May 2 in Reno, Nev.

Kryst visited students at Fort Mill High School Monday, where she offered them advice and told her story.

Kryst is the oldest Miss USA to date. At age 28, she won the Miss North Carolina US title in 2018 after trying three times.

“It took some time for me to actually really think it was possible because there are times when you have dreams, you’ll think of reaching success, you’ll think of what success looks like and you’ll think I’m going to get there someday, but you never actually think it’s going to happen,” she told the students.

Kryst attended Northwestern High School and won Miss Freshman at the school’s pageant. She transferred to Fort Mill High School her sophomore year. She calls Charlotte home and recently moved to New York City to fulfill her duties as Miss USA.

“One of the things that I miss are all of the restaurants in Charlotte that I used to go to,” Kryst said. “There’s so many things about Charlotte and Fort Mill. The special parts of home, you never forget.”

Kryst told the students pageants require introspection and soul searching. She tells girls interested in pageants to prepare and “know who you are.”

She also told the students in Fort Mill to “know the community that you have here, know the benefit that you have of being here and make sure that you help others who don’t have those same privileges.”

Kryst is the impact ambassador for Dress for Success, an international organization focused on economic independence for women that provides work-suitable clothing for women looking for jobs.

“This is a great opportunity for me,” she said. “And there are so many things that I do besides wearing this crown.”

The former track star told the students she has many fond memories of living in Fort Mill, including competing in track and field, a favorite teacher and a project she worked on that she still ponders.

Fort Mill High School is the place to be, Kryst said.

“This really is one of the best high schools in the entire state of South Carolina and it does an incredible job of preparing you for the next step,” she said.

Kryst’s stop in Fort Mill is her first since winning the pageant a month ago. She still has family in town.

“It’s incredible to be back at Fort Mill High School and just be welcomed by the community that really raised and me and that prepared me for life after high school,” Kryst said.

Kryst said girls from Fort Mill and from all over the world have asked her questions about confidence.

“It can be difficult to be a woman of color,” she said. “It can be difficult to be a woman of color wearing your hair natural in a pageant competition and I think you can be nervous about that entering a competition like Miss USA.”

Kryst said she wants to be herself.

“I just refuse to believe that there is any other way that I could be than just myself, so I showed up with my natural hair and my authentic self and I ended up getting the crown” she said.

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Tracy Kimball is a visual journalist for The Herald, covering York, Chester and Lancaster counties. She has worked at The Herald for 11 years. She graduated from Winthrop University and has lived in Rock Hill for 20 years.