Michigan State University alumna Maya Schuhknecht was crowned Miss Michigan 2023 in late June. After winning $10,000 in scholarships, she will now go on to compete in the 2024 Miss America competition.
Schuhknecht said with her title, she hopes to encourage other young men and women to adhere to their love for the arts.
She started pageantry in her sophomore year of college, hoping to gain scholarship money and community service experience as well as improved interview, lifestyle and public speaking skills.
“I went out for my first local (competition), and I didn't win,” she said. “Went out for my second one and didn't win. I finally won my third one and got to go to Miss Michigan last year, too.”
Schuhknecht’s objective when competing is to advocate for what she calls “Art For All.” Her talent presentation for competitions is speed painting.
The first speed painter to represent Michigan, Schuhknecht said very few people displaying that talent have gone on to Miss America.
“'It’s a really unique opportunity in that way, but it was a challenging one to come across," she said. "I really had to get over my personal boundaries and the boundaries that other people had set for me.”
Schuhknecht participated in her first competition at the age of 18, slightly contrasting many of the girls around her because many teen competitions had starting age limits of 13 and ranged to 28 years old.
Because of her stage fright, Schuhknecht said, many people would tell her that she wouldn't be able to compete successfully.
“(They said) I would never do well because of the fact that, traditionally in pageants like Miss America, singers and dancers and women who play instruments do really well on the talent phase,” Schuhknecht said. “Having a non-traditional talent was a really big deal.”
Although she didn’t place top five in last year’s Miss Michigan competition, she posted her painting presentation on TikTok; the videos went viral, garnering nearly three million views.
“Things started blowing up, and then I started getting collaborations through that,” Schuhknecht said. “When I went back to Miss Michigan this year, I painted Ruth Bader Ginsburg upside down in 90 seconds.”
Three of the top five girls in this year's Miss Michigan competition were either graduated from or currently attending MSU.
For Schuhknecht, whose parents are also MSU alumni, seeing Spartan representation was a "huge deal."
"That was so cool to me because the past few Miss Michigan’s have been (University of Michigan) alumna or students," Schuhknecht said. "So it’s always been on my mind that a Spartan should be Miss Michigan.”
Schuhknecht recalled dropping to the ground and crying uncontrollably when she won. Alongside the Miss Michigan title, she won $10,000 in scholarships to go towards student loans or taking classes for a Masters degree.
“Now I get to advocate for the arts across the state of Michigan and I get to go to Miss America this winter,” she said. “I wouldn't do this stuff if I wasn't having fun doing it.”
Schuhknecht said what makes a year successful to her has less to do with the number of events she goes to and more to do with how she makes people feel.
Being relatable and someone that people can connect with is what she’s looking forward to this year, she said.
“I just, I love people, and I love talking to people,” Schuhknecht said. “I'm excited just to inspire young girls, young boys, people of all ages to be creative and to do things they love."
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