When she was five years old, Cara Mund already had her sights set on a shiny crown – the one at her cousin's pageant.

Mund had been charged with holding it. But when it came time for the crowning, she wasn’t quite ready to let it go.

Now, 18 years later, she is wearing a pretty big crown of her own – the crown that marks her as Miss America 2018.

Cara Mund

ABC/Lou Rocco

“How many people get to say their dreams came true on national television for everyone else to see too?” she says of that moment she heard herself – “Miss North Dakota” – announced as the winner.

And it’s a good thing that moment was captured on television, because after her name was called, for Mund, it all became a bit of a blur.

"I don’t remember putting on the crown, I don’t remember the sash,” she admits. It wasn’t until she saw her parents at the end of the runway that the magnitude of the evening became clear.

Mund laughs remembering, “I had this moment where it dawned on me that I was wearing a crown, and that I was moving and I hadn’t passed out yet.”

Cara Mund

ABC/Lou Rocco

Then, she remembered the cameras. “I kept saying ‘don’t cry because your mascara is going to run and you’re not the cutest crier,’” Mund jokes. “I don’t even remember all of the faces I made. I thought I was smiling the whole time and keeping it cool, but obviously not.”

America tuned in to share her expressions of joy, and some of the first people to congratulate her were Coca-Cola scholars.

A Coca-Cola Community

In 2012, as a high school senior, Mund received a Coca-Cola Scholars Program scholarship, through which she attended Brown University, where she graduated with honors. As part of the scholarship program, she came to Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, where she met the other 249 Scholars, forging lifelong connections and friendships.

Mund reflects, “Even though we only spent that one week together, we were bound for the rest of our lives. It was great to have those Coke Scholars as cheerleaders along the way.”

Cara Mund and her fellow 2012 Coca-Cola Scholars.

More than helping to build a support system, the Coca-Cola Scholars Program helped prepare Mund for the path towards Miss America.

The values of both organizations align. Mund explains, “What it is to be a Coke Scholar is very similar to the characteristics of a Miss America contestant.”

Miss America is based on service, style, scholarship and success, while the Coca-Cola Scholarship recognizes students for their capacity to lead and serve, as well as their commitment to making a significant impact on their schools and communities. The parallels between these two programs, Mund believes, helped to make her an even stronger Miss America contestant.

In fact, Mund is the second Coca-Cola Scholar to win the prestigious crown, joining 2004 Miss America, Ericka Dunlap.

Coca-Cola Scholars participate in a service activity during the 2012 scholarship weekend in Atlanta.

A Commitment to Service

The overlap of service between the Coca-Cola Scholars Program and The Miss America Organization, is perhaps closest to Mund’s heart.

At age 14, she founded North Dakota’s Annual Make-A-Wish Fashion Show. This spring, she organized the 10th annual event, and her total fundraising efforts for Make-A-Wishnow top $78,500, enabling her to brighten the lives of 23 "Wish Kids".

For this personal service platform, Mund was recognized as a First Runner Up for the Quality of Life Award at the Miss America pageant preliminaries – a first for her state.

Mund recognizes the powerful position she will be in as Miss America to bring awareness to the issues she cares about most. She’s excited to carry on the organization’s commitment to service by continuing to be a vocal advocate for Make-A-Wish, and to serve as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, in keeping with Miss America’s partnership with the organization.

To Mund, the opportunities this title presents are so much more than she could have ever imagined as a five-year-old holding onto someone else’s crown. With the Miss America crown atop her head, she is ready to use her new platform to the fullest.