Miss North Carolina USA, a Fort Mill High grad, crowned the new Miss USA

NC lawyer Cheslie Kryst crowned Miss USA

Watch the moment NC lawyer Cheslie Kryst is crowned the new Miss USA Thursday night May 3, 2019.
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Watch the moment NC lawyer Cheslie Kryst is crowned the new Miss USA Thursday night May 3, 2019.

It’s official: the Miss USA crown and sash are headed to North Carolina.

Charlotte corporate attorney Cheslie Kryst won the Miss USA pageant Thursday night in Reno, Nev.

Kryst, 28, edged out Miss New Mexico and Miss Oklahoma for the honor with Miss New Mexico Alejandra Gonzalez the first runner-up.

Miss NC USA Cheslie Kryst.jpg
Miss Universe Organization

In addition to being a litigation attorney with Charlotte’s Poyner Spruill law firm, Kryst is a fashion blogger who aims to give women advice on dressing for the workplace with her blog, White Collar Glam.

Kryst graduated from Fort Mill High School where she was known as “CeeCee,” school officials said. Since her victory Thursday night, her former teachers and classmates have spread the word across the country that one of York County’s graduates won the title, said Dee Christopher, the former Fort Mill High principal who is now principal at Fort Mill’s new high school opening next year, Catawba Ridge.

Christopher said his phone has been “blowing up” with texts and calls from students and staffers who are sharing the Fort Mill graduate’s prowess.

“This is a young lady who was engaged at school her whole career -- a shining star,” Christopher said Friday morning. “So many people have contacted me, and each other, to share the news. At Fort Mill, we were always a family, and this shows that a member of our family has had a great achievement. This is a huge, big deal for her, and for Fort Mill High and the entire Fort Mill community.”

Christopher said all of York County can be proud that a young person whose successes flourished in Fort Mill now has reached the nation and world.

“We all are applauding greatness today,” Christopher said.

Kryst graduated from Fort Mill High in 2009. She was prom queen at the school and was involved in several other activities, her classmates said.

Ben Tyler, a Fort Mill High 2009 graduate who now is a world geography teacher at Fort Mill High, was prom king the same year that Kryst was prom queen. Tyler said that Kryst earned deserves credit for everything she has achieved.

“She was always the kid that was involved in everything, successful at everything she did, and always gave her full self to what she was doing,” Tyler wrote to The Herald in an email. “She is approachable, kind, remarkably intelligent, and no one deserves this more than her. I was lucky enough to have been voted Prom King in high school, and Cheslie was my Prom Queen!! I now teach at FMHS and am in charge of Student Council who puts on our Miss Fort Mill High Pageant. We invited her to judge our show this year. Who knew we had the future Miss USA judging our little pageant!!

In ninth grade, Kryst entered and won her first pageant — Miss Freshman at Rock Hill’s Northwestern High School. When the family moved and she transferred to Fort Mill High School, she won the Miss Fort Mill High School pageant.

As Fort Mill High’s pageant queen, “she blossomed,” her mother April Simpkins told The Charlotte Observer last month.

“Her focus was not on just wearing a crown and a sash,” Simpkins said. “I knew then that she was going to compete for the right reasons. She didn’t need praise and accolades.”

During her years on the pageant circuit, Kryst forged a friendship with current Miss America Nia Franklin, and now serves as Franklin’s attorney.

Franklin also has North Carolina ties. She is a North Carolina native who attended East Carolina University.

Beth Vanderwalker began as director of the South Carolina Strawberry Festival Pageant three years ago. She also is a York County recruiter for the Miss USA program, with the festival pageant serving as a preliminary. In those roles she and Kryst often come in contact.

“We’ve had the privilege to be at many events with her,” Vanderwalker said. “She is a strong, outgoing, just wonderful role model that will be a wonderful representative of not only the USA, but also Fort Mill as well.”

Though Kryst qualified through the North Carolina system, Vanderwalker said the win will serve as inspiration for young women competing in Fort Mill and surrounding areas.

“It really does open a lot of doors for these girls to bring awareness to their platforms,” she said. “It also opens doors to help them become confident, strong young women. It’s just a national opportunity that we can bring to a local level.”

Kryst, who earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina and her law degree from Wake Forest University, is passionate about empowering women in the workplace – especially when it comes to presenting themselves through fashion.

In an April profile in The Charlotte Observer, she described how she became fixated with the topic of female fashion in the workplace.

At a law school moot court competition one day in 2017, she and her female partner faced off against two male students, and afterward, one of the judges — another black woman — had only one piece of advice after Kryst’s 20-minute oral argument: Wear a skirt next time. (She had worn a pantsuit.) Kryst posted about the experience on a Facebook page called Pantsuit Nation.

The post got 28,000 likes and 1,900 comments, and it fueled her desire to launch a fashion blog, White Collar Glam, dedicated to helping career women dress professionally. The blog posts, with photography by one of her younger brothers, range from frank advice and how-tos (“Is the double-breasted blazer for you?” and “Never wear these 10 items to work”) to posts about her favorite outfits and where to buy them. Visitors number in the thousands per month.

Kryst is a supporter of the nonprofit Dress for Success, and has said she planned to promote the charity’s work if given the Miss USA title.

Kryst didn’t grow up a pageant tyke, but she did grow up around pageants. Her mother won the Mrs. North Carolina US title when young Cheslie was in grade school.

In an interview before the pageant, Simpkins says it was during her term as Mrs. North Carolina that young Cheslie, who preferred pulling her hair back and reading books to dressing up and playing with makeup, “realized there’s some power behind pageants.”

In ninth grade, Kryst entered and won her first pageant — Miss Freshman at Rock Hill’s Northwestern High School. When the family moved and she transferred to Fort Mill High School, she won the Miss Fort Mill High School pageant.

Kryst took some years off pageants while at the University of South Carolina, but got back in the game during law school at Wake Forest University.

She tried a total of four times to win the titles of Miss North Carolina and Miss North Carolina USA (twice in the Miss America system, twice in the Miss USA/Miss Universe system), and although she was in the top 10 all four times, she didn’t bring home the crown until last November, when she won Miss North Carolina USA.

Herald reporter Andrew Dys contributed.

Cheslie Kryst is up and running before the sun is up and may not be home until well after the sun is down.

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