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Chelsea A. Vuong ’21 was crowned the 83rd Miss Massachusetts on June 24, thus qualifying her to compete for the title of Miss America next January. This achievement marks the most recent in a long history in pageantry, with Vuong competing in her first pageant at 12 years old and joining the Miss America organization at 15.
“In my earlier days, pageantry was more so a tool for me to understand myself and develop that confidence skill, learn how to do public speaking, learn how to figure out what my interests and passions are,” Vuong said.
Over the course of the last decade, what started out as a tool to build confidence has since transitioned into a way for Vuong to give back to the community.
One of the defining aspects of the Miss America organization is the year of service that state titleholders must fulfill in the time between the state-and national-level competitions. Vuong has chosen to use her platform as Miss Massachusetts to advocate for a cause she has supported since her time at Harvard: improving financial literacy.
Vuong came from a low-income background with immigrant parents who instilled a sense of financial responsibility in her. She was inspired to do work in personal finance because of her desire to help ease the financial burden of people with a similar background.
“My dad came to the United States with $200 in two suitcases, so he grew up pretty frugal. It wasn’t until we went through quite a bit ‘we don't know when the next meal is going to be on the table,’” Vuong said. “And so just growing up, my parents did teach me a lot about budgeting and savings and investing.”
Upon arriving at Harvard, Vuong was excited to continue developing her knowledge on the subject. However, she was astonished to discover that out of more than 400 clubs at Harvard, not one had to do with managing personal finances. Fueled by mutual passion, Vuong and a friend co-founded the Personal Finance & Consulting Group in 2019 with the aim of improving fellow college students’ financial literacy.
Vuong lamented that Massachusetts youth are given such limited opportunities to learn about personal finance. Despite how crucial it is as a life skill, finance courses are rarely mandated or even offered in high schools and colleges.
“Personal finance is something that is so important in everyone's life — when you're thinking about buying your first house, about how to invest in your first paycheck and how taxes work and how to get a good credit because you need a good credit to get all these loans to buy things in your future,” she said.
“Everything is about personal finance when you get older. And so I've really just honed in on that moving forward, because it's something that's missing in all of our education.”
Vuong also shared how the inability to manage one’s own finances can become a source of vulnerability for women. After hearing stories from women at shelters, Vuong realized the immense role that financial burden played in domestic abuse: Financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic abuse cases.
“Being a part of the Miss America organization where we're empowering women, with my personal mission of promoting personal finance, it does go hand in hand because that financial stressor and not being able to do the things that you want — because your husband is dictating all the finances — it does have a lot of ramifications for women in the future,” Vuong said.
After becoming Miss Massachusetts, Vuong finds that her new title has become a valuable asset for her in terms of advancing her work in advocacy, giving her a tremendous reach which she previously did not have access to.
As co-president of the nonprofit FinancialMile, Vuong and her colleagues often had to actively reach out to schools to be able to present personal finance courses to students. As a Miss America state titleholder, Vuong has frequently received invitations to speak at schools that might not have heard of her otherwise.
“It’s very special how — once you put on that crown and put on that banner — people are asking you questions, people are inviting you to different meetings and asking you to share your experiences,” she said.
Pageantry has changed the way Vuong sees and interacts with the world around her. Her past decade of competing in Miss America — one of the largest scholarship providers for women — has provided her with financial support in pursuing her goals, whether that be attending Harvard or, more recently, advocating for causes she is passionate about. Vuong hopes to spread awareness of the incredible opportunities that the organization has to offer.
“After I graduated from college, I continued with pageantry because I just love the aspect of giving this opportunity to other people. And so now I speak at elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, really encouraging them to compete in this organization because it has done me wonders, and I would love to be able to pass that forward to other people,” she said.
With new CEO Robin Fleming, who is wholeheartedly dedicated to improving Miss America, Vuong anticipates that the organization has the potential to increase viewership and continue to change the lives of young women for years to come.
“I think there's like a huge upward trajectory of where Miss America could go, so the fact that I have an opportunity to compete for Miss America and potentially become Miss America — be the first Miss Massachusetts to be Miss America — we’ve never had one before,” she said.
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