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Michelle Kang | Her crown fades, but memories still shine
Former Miss Virginia with local ties recalls her time with the crown

 Michelle Kang of Stafford is crowned Miss Virginia in 1996. She is now a mother of three living in Maryland.
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RELATED: The Road to Miss America: Local woman wins preliminary round
Local woman wins preliminary round Caressa Cameron, a Massaponax High graduate and the current Miss Virginia, competes in Las Vegas this week. Continuing coverage. Photos, stories, more. View complete coverage.

Date published: 1/27/2010


Stafford High School graduate Michelle Kang still has the Miss Virginia crown she won 13 years ago, though it's not as shiny as it once was.

She wore that crown all over the state that year, and everywhere she went, children reached out to touch it.

She thought about having it cleaned. But Kang likes the crown better with the dirt, cupcake crumbs and other particles the kids left behind.

It reminds her of how rich the experience was.

"That was one of the toughest jobs of my career," said Kang, 35, who now lives in Rockville, Md., with her husband and three sons. "It was also one of the most rewarding because of the opportunity to travel and speak and meet people from all walks of life."

Kang was the last Fredericksburg-area woman to win the Miss Virginia title, before Spotsylvania County resident Caressa Cameron captured it in June. Kang was one of the pageant judges who chose Cameron to represent the state at this week's Miss America Pageant.

"She was a star from the beginning. She made a big impression on all of us. She was so natural and conversational with us in the interview, but she had a real presence, a charisma onstage," said Kang, a graduate of the College of William & Mary. "She's an outstanding Miss Virginia and would be an outstanding Miss America."

Kang's favorite part of competing in the 1996 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., was the camaraderie among the contestants. She became great friends with that year's Miss Maryland, Susan Alexander, and even set up Alexander with a college friend of hers. The two later married.

Competing in the national pageant is like preparing for the ultimate job interview, Kang said. The media are watching. Pageant officials are watching. Fellow contestants are watching.

Grace under pressure is the key to doing well at that level, she said.

"People are wondering what kind of person you are. Are you real or are you different in person than you are onstage?" she said. "I think the person who does well is the person who isn't ruffled by the constant change in schedule. Just enjoy the moments and be yourself."

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The Miss America Pageant airs live at 8 p.m. Saturday on TLC. Free Lance-Star reporter Edie Gross and staff photographer Suzanne Carr Rossi are covering this week's events in Las Vegas and will post regular updates to fredericksburg.com about Miss Virginia Caressa Cameron, who hails from Spotsylvania. For more information, listen to 99.3 The Vibe on Thursday and Friday mornings.