Anchorage

Q&A with Miss America: Emma Broyles on Alaska representation, Korean heritage and empowering young women

Miss Alaska Miss America Emma Broyles

Anchorage’s Emma Broyles was crowned Miss America this week, becoming the first Miss Alaska and first woman of Korean descent to win the competition.

Broyles, 20, graduated from Service High School and is now a junior at Arizona State University, where she studies biomedical sciences and voice performance. Her victory Thursday night comes with $100,000 in scholarship money, which she said will help her pay for college and medical school as she studies to become a dermatologist.

The Miss America competition, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, has evolved away from an emphasis on looks to focusing on leadership, talent and communication skills — a change that Broyles says she appreciates.

“I’m so glad that Miss America puts this emphasis on what women have to say, rather than what they look like,” she said.

She joins a group of young Alaska women who achieved excellence on the national and global stage in 2021, including 17 year-old swimmer Lydia Jacoby of Seward, who took home gold and silver medals at the Summer Olympics, and 19-year-old model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse, from Eagle, who was featured on the covers of Vogue Mexico and Elle magazine this year and has used her platform to shine a light on Indigenous issues.

We caught up with Broyles on Friday to talk about her roots in Anchorage, representation in the Miss America competition and what her victory means for Alaska. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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ADN: Tell me what it feels like this morning. What went through your head when you woke up?

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Broyles: I remember I woke up and I saw that Miss America sash and crown sitting on my bedside, and I remember thinking, “Whose is that? Whose is that? Is that mine?”

I am so in shock that that this actually happened. And I’m so grateful to be the first Miss Alaska to win Miss America, I think, because that’s just such a cool honor and especially at the 100th anniversary of Miss America. ... Just the fact that I get to take home the crown and feel the support and the love from all of my fellow Alaskans has meant so much to me.

ADN: Tell me about growing up in Anchorage and how you got started on this competition journey.

Broyles: My parents actually both grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, as well. And I actually went to Service High School in Anchorage. And that’s kind of where I ... got my start in Special Olympics, where I really started finding my passion for Special Olympics.

I was the president of the Partners Club at Service High School, which is a school program for Special Olympics. And at that time, Service High School was named a National Unified Champion School for Special Olympics. And we were also named one of the top 30 schools in the nation by ESPN for inclusion, which was a really cool thing.

And I think it was kind of at that moment that I realized that Special Olympics plays a huge role in communities all across the country, and all across the world, for that matter. And I realized that the work that I did could really have an impact on other people’s lives and on our community as a whole.

That’s kind of where I got my start with Special Olympics. Having an older brother with Down syndrome who has competed and participated in Special Olympics since I was little, just getting to speak now about Special Olympics and have that partnership with Special Olympics and Miss America is something that I’m really looking forward to. And, I think, kind of opening up that dialogue about why openmindedness and inclusion and compassion is important, especially in the world we live in today.

Congratulations @emmabroyles_ your passion for inclusion is inspiring to us all. Everyone @specialolymak is so proud and...

Posted by Special Olympics Alaska on Friday, December 17, 2021

ADN: Can you talk more about your family, your Korean American heritage and how that’s shaped this win for you? Is that a part of a larger legacy? It’s so many firsts, it’s exciting.

Broyles: Being what we know of to be the first Miss America of Korean descent is another really cool thing because I think it represents all of the the positive change that we’ve seen in Miss America in the past 100 years.

I mean, even just in the past decade, we’ve seen such a diverse group of Miss Americas, and to be representing Asians all over the United States is a really, really cool and a really special moment for me.

My grandparents, they came to America about 50 years ago — right before my mom was born — with this idea that they wanted their kids to be able to live that American Dream and have every opportunity possible. They actually moved straight to Anchorage, Alaska, so they’ve been here for quite a while, which is why my family has our roots in Anchorage, Alaska, and all of their other family members came from Korea to Anchorage, Alaska.

So I have a huge Korean family in Anchorage, and it’s really, really neat because my grandpa was actually the president of the Korean Alaskan organization.

And it was a really cool win for my grandparents as well, I think, to see their Korean granddaughter making strides and being in a competition like Miss America. And you know, there were so many other Koreans on that stage with me, which — it was a really cool experience, and I feel so grateful for my heritage and for the ability to represent other Korean Americans all across the country. And I think my grandparents are especially grateful and especially excited.

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ADN: You’re joining a group of pretty incredible Alaska young women this year: Olympic swimmer Lydia Jacoby, model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse. You’re all within a few years of each other in age. What does it mean to be a part of a group of nationally known, really young Alaska women?

Broyles: I think it’s so incredibly empowering because I think in Alaska, especially in these kind of national competitions, and for Lydia, a worldwide competition, a state like Alaska tends to be the underdog. People think of Alaska as this random tundra, cold, barren land, and I feel like we don’t tend to get the recognition that we deserve.

And it’s a win not only for Alaska, but I feel like it’s a win for young women as well, being able to represent other young women from our state and even in our country, and to be someone that they can hopefully look up to. And you know, what’s kind of funny is that my high school swim coach was also the swim coach for Lydia. ... He posted on Facebook and was like, “OK, you guys, Lydia, who I coached, is an Olympic gold medalist and Emma, who I coached, is now Miss America.”

So maybe he’s my good luck charm or something. But that was kind of a cool moment that I kind of have that connection with Lydia in that sense that, you know, we have the same swim coach.

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But I really think that it’s a win for young Alaskan women everywhere. And hopefully we can act as some sort of inspiration for them to see that although they might be an underdog, being from Alaska, they are capable of so much more than they could ever imagine.

ADN: There’s probably a lot of Alaska kids waking up to this news this morning and seeing you on this national stage. What are you hoping is going through their heads right now?

Broyles: I think one of my main goals as Miss America is to be somebody who is relatable. I think that people tend to put Miss America on a pedestal, and they see her as this woman earning all of these cool scholarships. In fact, I won $100,000 in scholarships last night, which is pretty cool. And I think that they think she lives this perfect, glamorous life.

And it’s not like that. We’re very real people. And last night, during my onstage question, I got to share my struggles with being a woman who has ADHD and being a woman who was diagnosed with ADHD so late in her life. I was just diagnosed last year at 19. And you know, somebody who struggles with dermatillomania, which is a form of OCD.

It was kind of a hard thing for me to share at first. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be that vulnerable, you know, on a national stage with hundreds and thousands of people watching. But ultimately, I know that it was the right choice because at the end of the day, I think that there were people who felt like they could connect.

There were people who felt like they saw themselves in me, and I was able to get so many just sweet messages and comments this morning and last night, from people saying how cool it was that they saw somebody like them, you know, somebody who’s neurodivergent or somebody who has a family member with a intellectual disability, seeing themselves in me and seeing this kind of relatable figure and somebody that they can look to.

And so I really hope that I can continue to act as a source of inspiration. I was able to get through such a tough time in my life last year as many people experienced really low points in their lives with COVID and the isolation that came with that. And you know, the fact that I was able to overcome it, and here I am a year later as Miss America, I hope that other people know that they can do the same thing. They can overcome whatever it is that they’re struggling with.

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ADN: What message do you want to send back home?

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Broyles: I think the most important thing is that I just want to say thank you to everyone who has been sending me kind messages and leaving nice comments and supporting me throughout my Miss Alaska journey.

I just feel so honored to be able to take this title home to Alaska for the first time in history, and hopefully we’re going see many more Miss Alaskas take home the title of Miss America, and we’re going to see more underdogs doing incredible things that nobody would have ever thought they’d be able to do.

Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.

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