Go Be Great Vanessa: Miss Clark County is now Miss Washington

Vanessa Munson of Battle Ground is now Miss Washington. She will be competing in the Miss America Pageant at a date to be determined, most likely in January of 2024. Photo by Mike Schultz

Battle Ground’s Vanessa Munson, a sergeant in the United States Army, will have a shot at becoming Miss America

Paul Valencia
Clark County Today

She is a soldier.

She is a dancer.

She is an inspiration.

And a leader, too.

Now, she is Miss Washington.

“I’m Vanessa first. First and foremost. All of those things help make Vanessa who I am. That’s being a soldier, Miss Washington, a best friend, a volunteer. All of those things make Vanessa … Vanessa,” she said.

Vanessa Munson, a 2018 Prairie High School graduate, grew up in Battle Ground with the dream of one day becoming Miss America. She is one step closer after earning the title of Miss Washington earlier this summer.

“I’m still in shock that I am now the woman I essentially looked up to for years,” the 22-year-old said.

Munson was back home over the weekend to take part in Battle Ground’s Harvest Days celebration. She expected to return to Joint Base Lewis-McChord this week to resume her duties as a sergeant in the United States Army.

And then she will be back on the road, again and again, making appearances throughout Washington with her hectic schedule, sharing her message of empowerment and confidence. Soon enough, that message will go national when she competes in the Miss America Pageant.

“I stand for empowerment. I want young girls and boys to feel empowered in who they are,” Munson said. “When you stand for something, when you believe in yourself, when you show up for yourself, there is nothing that can count you out.”

Older Americans might think of Miss America as a “beauty pageant” but that is from a different era. It is a scholarship pageant, and while fitness is a component of the competition, the focus is on the beauty from inside, how each young woman on stage presents solutions to problems and rises above in hopes of bringing people together.

“When you think of a pageant, you think of parading around in pretty dresses and swimsuits,” Munson said. “While Miss America was founded on a swimsuit competition in 1921, it is so much more about empowering young women to be confident, to have public speaking skills, to be able to walk into an interview and kill that interview. It is so much more than what you look like on the outside.”

That fits perfectly with her Community Service Initiative. All state winners have initiatives that they will work on during their year of service. And they will bring those messages to the Miss America contest.

Munson’s theme: Beauty and Beyond: What is your beautiful?

She works with Dress for Success Seattle and Girls Inc., organizations that inspire girls and women to thrive.

Pageant contestants are judged in five categories. There is a private interview with the judges, an on-stage question regarding the Community Service Initiative, there is a talent show, evening dress, and health/fitness. 

Munson had a plan going into this summer’s competition.

“All week, I kept telling myself I didn’t want to be the best at everything, but I wanted to be consistent at everything,” Munson said. “I wanted to just know I could do the best that Vanessa could do.”

When she was young, Munson taught herself a lot of the basics of dance by finding lessons on YouTube. In middle school, she joined the dance team. She was a dancer and cheerleader at Prairie High School.

“When it comes to talent, one thing I do know how to do is dance,” Munson said. “I know how to perform. I told myself. Just sell it. Just go sell the jazz dance. When I got off the stage, I felt so happy and so proud of myself because I did the best that Vanessa could do.”

As far as showing off her fitness skills, well, she is a soldier in the U.S. Army. She’s got this.

“I love what fitness stands for. I take my fitness very seriously,” Munson said. “You feel amazing about yourself. Every single person’s body is different. I knew that I was going to rock fitness because I am strong and I am capable, and I can.”

Toward the end of the Miss Washington competition, Munson was named as one of the five finalists.

“I just remember feeling an overwhelming sense of excitement,” she said. 

The fourth runner-up was announced, then the third runner-up, and, yes, the second runner up. Miss Clark County, Vanessa Munson, was still on the stage, the final two, along with Miss Pierce County.

“They called her as first runner-up, and I just dropped to the ground,” Munson said. “I had never felt such feelings before. To know that I showed up for the little girl that for so many years had this dream of going to Miss America … now that’s a reality. It’s just weird.”
Weird and wonderful.

She is serving as Miss Washington while still serving in the U.S. Army. She is Sgt. Vanessa Munson, working with the 42nd Military Police Brigade as a human resources specialist. She will tell you, though, that she, and all of her colleagues in the Army, are soldiers first.

Sgt. Vanessa Munson is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma. A Prairie High School graduate, she is also Miss Washington and will be competing in the Miss America Pageant. Photo courtesy Sheri Backous
Sgt. Vanessa Munson is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma. A Prairie High School graduate, she is also Miss Washington and will be competing in the Miss America Pageant. Photo courtesy Sheri Backous

She is set to outprocess from the military in six months — the end of her initial contract with the Army. 

During the next six months, the Army is working with Munson to give her time to serve as a soldier and as Miss Washington. 

“The Army is so proud. It’s not every day you see an active duty soldier win a title in the Miss America organization,” Munson said. “They’ve really taken this opportunity to kind of make me a poster child for the Army. It’s great recruitment. It really does teach young women you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it.”

Serving in the Army has also helped Munson with her education goals. She is set to graduate with her degree in Business Management, and a minor in marketing, from the American Military University. She also will have G.I. Bill funds to work on a master’s degree.

Munson said she has taken advantage of every resource available to her while in the Army to improve herself and achieve. She also gained a deeper appreciation for the military.

“You create a bond with the people you serve with,” she said. “It’s become a sense of pride. I did what only one percent of this nation does, and that is serve this country.”

The Army has also helped her battle through a serious health condition. Munson had to receive a waiver to enlist in the Army due to cholesteatoma, an abnormal collection of skin cells deep in the ear that can “eat” through the ear, she said.

Munson has had several surgeries while in the Army and will be getting a permanent hearing aid attached to her head that will bring her hearing back to almost 100 percent, she said.

Munson refuses to let cholesteatoma slow her down.

She shows off a tattoo on her right arm.

“Go Be Great.”

Those words came from her father, Brian. 

“If there are any words of advice to anyone in this world, it’s to go be great,” Vanessa Munson said. “Go win. Go lose. Go learn. But go be great and be you.”

Vanessa Munson was Miss Clark County when she was in the Hazel Dell Parade of Bands. Munson, who has dreamed of becoming Miss America since she was a little girl, will have that chance now as Miss Washington. Photo by Mike Schultz
Vanessa Munson was Miss Clark County when she was in the Hazel Dell Parade of Bands. Munson, who has dreamed of becoming Miss America since she was a little girl, will have that chance now as Miss Washington. Photo by Mike Schultz

Parents Lauren and Brian, along with their three other children, were there to watch Vanessa be crowned Miss Washington on July 1 in Olympia. Vanessa is the oldest. Then there is Ashlyn, 19, Braeden, 17, and Corbin, 16.

“They are the best support team,” Vanessa said.

She intends to “Go Be Great” for them.

Vanessa said she was 9 years old when she first started dreaming of becoming Miss America. She will get her shot, most likely in January. Date and place has not yet been announced.

She said she understands that when she walks into that competition, there are going to be 50 others who want to win. She respects them all.

“I’m going to go to Miss America as Miss Washington and as Vanessa Munson,” she said. “I’m going to go compete, and I’m going to represent my state to the best of my ability. If I don’t leave as Miss America, that doesn’t change who I am. That doesn’t change what I stand for. However, I’m going to compete fiercely at Miss America, and I’m going to show Miss America who Washington is.”

This year, Washington is a dancer, a non-commissioned officer in the United States Army, a leader, and more.

That’s Vanessa.

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