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Posted Sep 11, 2017 at 5:44 PM
Cara Mund formed a bond with sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman while taking her course “Beauty Pageants in American Society,” and Friedman was on hand to share Mund’s victory Sunday night in Atlantic City.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Hilary Levey Friedman was a visiting assistant professor of American Studies at Brown when a senior who quickly made a deep impression on her enrolled in a course she was teaching, “Beauty Pageants in American Society,” in 2015.
A scholar holding degrees from Harvard and Princeton, Friedman is a sociologist with expertise on sports, parenting and childhood — and beauty pageants.
She had never taught a student quite like Cara Mund of Bismarck, North Dakota. Mund was herself a pageant winner, having taken the title of Miss North Dakota’s Outstanding Teen in 2010, along with several other crowns in her native state.
On Sunday night, Mund, 23, was named Miss America. And Friedman was there in Atlantic City to see her claim the title.
“There was no question it was an extraordinary moment,” the Brown scholar told The Journal Thursday afternoon during a stop on her drive home to Rhode Island from New Jersey. “It was very exciting. I was happy I could be there.”
Friedman said that the deep impression Mund made on her in 2015 stemmed not only from her academic prowess but also from the community service the now-Miss America had embraced since she was a young teen. Since the age of 14, the Grand Forks Herald reports, Mund has organized a fashion show with proceeds benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which benefits sick children. She has raised nearly $80,000 for the cause.
“She’s a young woman who clearly has a lot of energy,” Friedman said, a woman who is “genuine and compassionate.”
And, once her Miss America responsibilities are fulfilled, she’ll be headed to Notre Dame Law School. Mund has declared her dream to be the first female governor of North Dakota. She already has achieved another memorable first: Mund is the first Miss America from North Dakota in the contest’s almost century-long history.
Friedman’s admiration of Mund was soon returned, according to the scholar: “Mentor,” Friedman said, is the word Miss America uses to describe her former teacher.
Mund, who was busy Monday on a TV tour and could not be reached, used the word in early 2016 when writing a letter in support of a nomination for a teaching award for Friedman.
“I truly do not think Professor Levey Friedman realizes the magnitude of impact she has had on my life and the lives of her other students,” Mund wrote. “Professor Levey Friedman is so much more than a professor. She is a mentor, the type of woman I strive to be like and someone that I hope to stay connected with beyond my time at Brown.”
Further evidence of the impression Mund left on the Brown teacher came shortly after the young woman graduated last year from Brown, when Friedman traveled to her home state to watch her compete in the Miss North Dakota competition.
“I have been to dozens and dozens of beauty pageants” and judged many of them, Friedman said, “but this was the first time I knew someone personally.”
Freidman, of course, is aware of how some dismiss the Miss America pageant as little more than a platform featuring young women in bikinis, but she sees more than that.
“For better or for worse, whatever you think about it, the Miss America organization is the largest provider of scholarship money to women in the United States,” she said. Mund used some of that money to help pay her tuition at Brown, Friedman said, and will use more of it to help finance her Notre Dame Law School education.
Friedman herself has never competed in a beauty pageant, she said, and her two young children are both boys. But she does have some family experience: her mother, Pamela Eldred, was Miss Michigan 1969 and Miss America 1970.
Friedman is proud of her mother — and now, of one of her successors, Miss America 2018, Cara Mund.
“She is the first Ivy League graduate of the modern era to win the title of Miss America,” Friedman said. “Brown should be proud of her and embrace her.”
So, too, should the Ocean State, said the Brown teacher and author of “Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture,” published by the University of California Press.
“Rhode Island is a small place; North Dakota is a small place,” Friedman said. “People can do big things. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
Editor’s note: Mund is not the first Ivy Leaguer to win the crown. Evelyn Ay, Miss America 1954, was a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania when she won.
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