Caitlyn Vogel, Miss North Dakota USA 2021, represents community on national stage
Runner-up remains queen to home community
Caitlyn Vogel had what she described as a surreal moment during the Miss USA 2021 pageant event Monday night when she was named first runner-up from among 51 candidates.
As Miss North Dakota USA 2021, Vogel, 21, a nursing student at Minot State University, finished second to Ellen Elizabeth “Elle” Smith of Kentucky, who was crowned in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Vogel said the pageant goes by quickly for contestants, who really don’t have time to soak in the experience.
“It kind of just becomes a blur because there’s so much going on,” she said. In retrospect, though, she called it “such a great opportunity.”
Vogel, of Minot, was selected as Miss North Dakota USA 2021 last April, promoting a platform of inclusion of people of all abilities. That she caught the judges’ eyes in Tulsa came as no surprise to those in her home community who know her.
“She is a true gem of a person, and she didn’t have to finish first runner-up in Miss USA for us to know that,” said Kevin Burckhard of Minot. “She’s an outstanding young woman first and a beauty pageant queen a distant second. She’s very selfless and has not just loved on our children but on many children in our community who have special needs.”
Vogel currently is working on a pilot program to create career opportunities for young people with disabilities who are interested in the health care field.
As a senior at Des Lacs-Burlington High School, she had founded a nonprofit organization called Limitless. Through the organization, she continues to host an annual fashion show that provides one-on-one friendships among individuals with disabilities. Vogel, who also has modeled locally and nationally, created the clothing line, Down Right Perfect Collection, which is dedicated to supplying fashionable, functional and affordable clothing for girls with disabilities.
Burckhard said Vogel shared a coffee shop job this summer with his daughter, Bella, who has Down’s Syndrome, splitting tips generously. The two young women have been best friends who engage in many activities and travels together.
“She’d been living her platform for years before she was a pageant queen and before she needed a platform. She was living out her passion to work with kids with special needs and make sure that they’re included,” Burckhard said. “Cait has always had the ability to make others feel special while at the same time making them proud to be supporting her and thankful to have her nearby.”
Calling Vogel a true champion and fierce advocate for special needs children in a Facebook post, Burckhard received more than a hundred comments from individuals sharing similar sentiments and pride in the way Vogel represents her state and community.
Vogel said she understands the importance of representing her state well. A fifth generation North Dakotan, she said, “It is something bigger than myself. Obviously, I am the face. I am the one on stage and it does have personal benefits to me, but in my mind, it’s the people who are supporting me and state that I get to call home.”
She said the support from her family and community, including her inclusive community, were beyond her expectations. She created North Dakota sweatshirts to sell as a fundraiser and, hoping to sell 20, she sold more than 1,000.
Vogel has built community support through hundreds of hours of community service. Even as a student, she’s worked with the MSU Development Foundation.
“We are extremely happy for Caitlyn and proud to have her representing North Dakota and, of course, Minot State University on a national stage,” said Rick Hedberg, vice president for Advancement and the foundation’s executive director. “She is such a great role model and a genuine young lady who has already accomplished so much. She is engaged on campus and within our community, and she is going to have a great future as a nurse.”
Carrie Lewis, MSU nursing instructor, said the entire nursing faculty was proud but not surprised by Vogel’s performance Monday.
“We were all very proud of the intelligence that she showed and the poise that she showed, and we knew that when she got to the interview portion, that’s where she was going to shine, because we knew that she is so well rounded and so intelligent,” Lewis said.
She noted Vogel’s personality is characterized by a positive attitude, compassion for others, support for fellow students and a desire to always do her job well. The same traits and intelligence that combine to make Vogel an outstanding pageant competitor will make her an excellent nurse, she added.
“Her poise under pressure is going to be something that’s going to serve her well as a nurse,” she said. “That just goes to show her level of preparation for everything that she does.”
Vogel plans to graduate from MSU in May but will have a mentoring experience to complete before testing for her nursing license. She also is engaged to be married.
There is potential for her personal plans to be delayed if Smith, who goes on to compete for the Miss Universe title, earns that crown on Dec. 12. Then Vogel would move to Los Angeles to fulfill the role of Miss USA 2021 in Smith’s place.
In addition to preparing for the national pageant in recent months, Vogel has been carrying out the responsibilities of her state position.
“I wouldn’t really call them responsibilities. They’re more like little blessings. I love that I’m able to be an active part of the community,” she said. One of her goals over the coming months is to spend more time in North Dakota schools.
“One of the things I love is interacting with children and being able to speak on inclusion,” she said. “I do think it is important to start that inclusive mindset at such a young age.”
Vogel said a highlight of the national pageant was getting to know each of the contestants by name and building what she believes will become some lifetime friendships. Other highlights during the week leading up to the pageant included learning about the Greenwood race massacre in 1921 and working in a food kitchen on Thanksgiving Day.
Vogel worked with a professional designer to bring to life her design for the state costume segment of Monday’s pageant. The costume was a tribute to North Dakota agriculture and the farmers in her extended family. Through her parents, Chad and Marlene, she has roots in wheat fields in both North and South Dakota.
Her costume’s fringes rippled with movement like wheat in the wind, while the six-foot, golden wings and a shimmering crown in a wheat design created regality. The wings represented one of her biggest supporters over her pageant journey — her grandmother who died last October.
Vogel had served as Miss North Dakota Teen USA 2019, finishing first runner-up in the national event to Kaliegh Garris of Connecticut. Aspen Hennessy, Des Lacs, represented North Dakota in the Miss Teen USA 2021 competition, also held in Tulsa prior to the Miss USA 2021 event.
While she says she has no plans for further pageant competition, Vogel hopes to stay involved with the Miss USA and Teen USA organization in other capacities.
“I’m very thankful for all pageantry has brought into my life,” she said. “I would like to — at the state pageants — be a chaperone or help with production for years to come, or even judge. I would love to be a judge of a pageant.”
Vogel is the second North Dakota contestant to finish as first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant. Audra Mari of Fargo finished as first runner-up in 2014 and had been first runner-up in the Miss Teen USA 2011 competition.