Right after being crowned Miss Utah 2013 on Saturday night at Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, Miss Panoramaland Ciera Pekarcik turned to the crowd and help up four fingers.
"Four years!" she exclaimed. "Four years!"
For 23-year-old Pekarcik, her new title is the culmination of four years of competing at Miss Utah, mixed with a passion for her platform and a lot of hard work.
"I cannot describe it, it's surreal," Pekarcik said. "I'm higher than cloud nine. I'm on cloud 10. Diligence gets you places; work ethic. Don't give up on your dreams. Don't. This is spectacular."
Pekarcik will spend the next year acting as an ambassador for the Miss America Organization national platforms — Science, Engineering, Technology and Math (STEM) and the Children's Miracle Network — in addition to promoting her own platform, "Child Sexual Abuse: Recognition and Recovery."
Pekarcik was awarded a $10,000 scholarship during the pageant Saturday night and she will represent Utah at the Miss America pageant in September.
During Saturday's competition, the field of 44 titleholders was whittled down based on three nights of preliminary scores. The 10 finalists were Pekarcik, Miss Nebo Vanessa Watson, Miss Utah Valley University Chelsi Richards, Miss Rocky Mountain Chelsi Lukens, Miss Pleasant Grove Alyson Johnson, Miss Dixie State University Krissia Beatty, Miss Draper Celeste Gutzman, Miss Provo Kaitlin Purse, Miss Legacy Alisha Lee and Miss Weber County Savannah Lancaster.
Beatty was named the fourth runner-up and took home a $600 scholarship. Purse was the third runner-up and was awarded an $800 scholarship. Johnson, the second runner-up, was awarded a $1,500 scholarship, and Lancaster, the first runner-up, was awarded a $3,000 scholarship.
Other awards given Saturday night included an award for the contestant who raised the most money for the Children's Miracle Network, which went to Miss Farmington Victoria Pozzuoli. The community service award went to Miss Washington County Kelby Tyler, while the Miss America Academic Scholarship award went to Miss Duchesne County Cassandra Haslem.
The Spirit of Miss Utah award, voted on by the other contestants, went to Miss Bear River Valley Anna Evans, and two $500 scholarships given as part of the Glenn Harmon Instrumentalist Award went to Miss Nebo Vanessa Watson and Miss Dixie State University Krissia Beatty. Miss Davis County, Ellie Tucker, was awarded Sadie Huish Service Award during the Thursday night Miss Utah preliminary competition.
More than 700 girls compete in local Miss America-affiliated pageants throughout the year, and in total, national, state and local contests have raised more than $7 million for the Children's Miracle Network since January 2013. This year's Miss Utah contestants gave 950 hours in service to the CMN and 7,674 hours in service to other organizations, and raised $19,713 for the CMN and $112,807 for other projects.
During the first night of competition Wednesday, Pekarcik won a preliminary talent award for her performance of Via Dolorosa by Sandi Patty. Miss Provo, Kaitlin Purse, won a preliminary lifestyle and fitness award.
On Thursday, Pekarcik claimed a second preliminary award, this time in lifestyle and fitness, and Miss Nebo, Vanessa Watson, won a talent award for her piano performance of Etude, Opus 25, Number 11 (Winter Wind) by Chopin.
During the final night of preliminary competition Friday, Miss Weber County, Savannah Lancaster, won the talent award for her contemporary dance performance and Miss Orem, Amy Tuttle, won a preliminary lifestyle and fitness award.
Each preliminary award winner received a $100 scholarship.
While winning the Miss Utah title has taken her four years of work, Pekarcik said in a recent interview that each day in her journey as part of the Miss America program has helped shape her into a better person.
"This program is formulated so that you stay true and loyal to whom you naturally are as a person, you are just given a golden pathway to reach for your own potential," Pekarcik said. "I love that feeling of stepping out of my comfort zone to a better you in the end."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company