The accomplishments and goals of Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2015, should make us all appreciate what that pageant title represents. The fact that Kira is an avid golfer only adds to her appeal.

Kira is a first generation American of Russian parents who left Moscow in 1990, her father a surgical oncologist and her mother a real-estate broker. Kira is fluent in Russian and Spanish and graduated from Hofstra University Honors College in 2013 with a triple major of political science, global studies, and geography. She has been accepted at Notre Dame Law School.

Beauty pageants have been in her blood since the age of 11, and her titles have included Miss California Preteen, Miss California Jr, Miss Cosmopolitan (New York), and Miss New York before winning Miss America.

Kira has become a tireless advocate on women’s issues, an ambassador and the Director of Digital Marketing for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and a keynote speaker at conferences, fundraisers and universities. An accomplished singer, Kira has sung at the NBA All-Star Game and MLB games and entertained thousands of troops during her USO tour.

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NEGM: What motivated you to enter beauty pageants in the first place?

KK: When I was 11, I entered a pre-teen pageant. The competition was exciting, I won, and I got the bug. I competed in pageants once a year after that for five or six years, and then I took a break until I was 21. I entered the Miss America pageant because I wanted the $50,000 scholarship money for law school.

NEGM: Was the competition for the Miss America crown enjoyable or cutthroat?

KK: Enjoyable. There is nothing cutthroat about the competition at all. The thing about pageants is that there is a lot of camaraderie. We’re dealing with the same issues, challenges, and experiences. Some of my best friends come from pageants because we share a really special bond.

NEGM: As Miss America for a year, what responsibilities go along with the scholarship?

KK: Miss America becomes the National Goodwill Ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. I traveled throughout the country, visiting many of their 170 member hospitals. I participated in the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend and various fund raising events, including golf tournaments.

Miss America does a lot with the military and working with the USO. I got to travel around the world on the USO tour with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I spoke to and entertained the troops in places like Afghanistan, South Korea, Bahrain, and Diego Garcia.

Miss America also promotes a personal platform. Mine is “Love Shouldn’t Hurt,” protecting women against domestic violence.

NEGM: What activities did you enjoy the most?

KK: The USO Tour, for sure! It changed my life because it gave me a true appreciation for the way of life that we enjoy in the U.S. while we have men and women, far away from their families and friends, who are defending our freedom as Americans.

My relationship with Nathan, a Champion of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and other Champions like him in the CMNH programs have also had a lasting effect upon me. Their joy and contentment and the manner in which they rise to their personal challenges have inspired me no end.

I got to be a presenter on the national broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music, and the American Music Awards.

I went from being a restaurant hostess in New York City to having this crazy lifestyle of being in a different city every two days and traveling 20,000 miles a month. It was wild!

NEGM: You are an advocate for Safe Horizon and the #PutTheNailInIt campaign.

KK: Safe Horizon is the largest provider of domestic violence services in the country, and I, like many other supporters, have painted the nail of my left ring finger purple. The purple nail is a great conversation starter because many people ask me why the purple nail.

I have been working with Safe Horizon now for several years, first as a local pageant title holder and then as a volunteer when I was Miss New York City. I then continued to sponsor their services and awareness as Miss America. When Safe Horizon honored me with the Voice of Empowerment Award in 2015, it was one of the proudest moments of my year and of my life.

NEGM: Where and when did you learn to play golf? Handicap?

KK: I picked up my first golf club at three years old, and I started playing when I was seven. I got pretty good and played in a junior league and then in high school for a year. Then, however, and I regret it now, I gave up golf until I became Miss America and realized how valuable this skill was that I had.

I had a wonderful time at the 2015 BMW Charity Pro-Am Tournament in South Carolina, and I hope to play in it again this year.

My handicap is 19, but I am working on lowering it. I recently did a three-day golf intensive at the beautiful Kapalua Resort on Maui.

NEGM: Dream Foursome of today?

KK: Two dream teams for me. Annika Sorenstam, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. My dad, Tiger Woods, and Arnold Palmer.

NEGM: What are your future plans? Notre Dame Law School? And beyond?

KK: I’ve realized that Law School is no longer on the table for me. My priorities have changed. Perhaps I will go to Business School because I certainly to want to continue my education with that scholarship money. I live in LA now, and I am pursuing a career in entertainment. I’d love to play a lot more golf as the game has opened a lot of doors for me.

I’m really enjoying the travel that I do for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, for my “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” platform, and on behalf of the Miss America Organization.

I’m definitely not willing, as of today, to give up my whirlwind lifestyle!

NEGM: Final words on what the Miss America title has meant to you.

KK:People think of the Miss America pageant as one night on television—the glamorous girl in the gown with the crown on her head who waves to the crowd. They don’t realize how much work it is or how much each winner’s life is changed for the better. I have been given opportunities to discover myself and to express myself that could only have come from this pageant. I am forever thankful to be Miss America, and I am very proud of that title.

(Crowning of Kira Kazantsev photo courtesy of the Miss America Organization/Bruce V. Boyajian)