As the summer begins to wind down, most rising high school seniors are busy preparing for their first day back to school. However, things are little different for rising Chapin High School senior K. Lee Graham, who was crowned Miss Teen USA last Saturday night.
“I still can’t believe it actually happened,” Graham said. “Being Miss Teen USA is so important to me.”
Graham, 17, is in New York right now just as her senior year and reign as Miss Teen USA kicks into high gear. (A South Carolina homecoming is being planned for later in the month.)
“Tonight, I’m going to a Yankees game, and I’ll get to meet my new boss Mr. (Donald) Trump,” Graham said. “Then I’ll head back to South Carolina and start commuting to the places I’m needed.”
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Trump owns the Miss USA brand, which includes the Miss Universe pageant.
As Graham handles her duties as Miss Teen USA, she still has to make time for academics and for what Graham described as a very unique senior year. Graham has taken advanced classes and honors classes along the way, which has paved the way for her to take a lighter course load this semester.
“I’ll be able to take my remaining courses while living in South Carolina and graduate early,” Graham said.
Once her high school diploma is in hand, Graham will head to the New York Film Academy, where she’ll enroll in the acting program for a semester.
Graham said she’ll live in the dorms while she’s at the Film Academy, but will be living with current Miss USA Nia Sanchez and Miss Universe Gabriela Isler when she’s not in school. All the while, she’ll be applying to colleges for the following fall.
Graham will continue her blog Live Beautifully, which is designed to help girls find their inner worth and focus on their character instead of their appearance.
“I was just thinking about what I’ll post on the blog this weekend,” Graham said. “It will definitely continue, and will be a way for people to follow me as I’m traveling.”
While she travels as Miss Teen USA, Graham also hopes to promote education.
Graham, who is No. 1 in her class at Chapin High School, has a passion for learning, and wants people to know pursuing an education is an admirable thing.
“I would sometimes act like I didn’t know the answer to a question when I was in middle school,” Graham said. “I regret that now, and I want other young ladies never to be ashamed of knowing the right answer.”
With so much ahead of her, Graham will never forget all of the supportive family and friends who have supported her on this journey. She also said South Carolina will always be home.
One person in particular who’s been there from the beginning is Graham’s mom, Jennifer Newin, who held the Miss Teen South Carolina USA title in 1985
“My mom never forced me to compete, I begged her to let me,” Graham said. “She inspires me, and has shown me how to stay confident and be prepared.”
She has also helped Graham with her wardrobe by making most of her evening gowns.
“Miss Teen USA was actually the first pageant I didn’t wear one of my mom’s gowns,” Graham said.
“My mom’s worked really hard, and I wanted her to relax and take a break from it this time,” Graham said.
Graham enlisted the help of Gregory Ellenburg of South Carolina to create her Miss Teen USA gown. RPM Productions of Aiken also worked with Graham.
Ellenburg is a sponsor of the Miss SC Teen USA pageant, and Graham said he has a huge reputation for paying attention to the fit of the gown.
“I worked with him closely to get the details, and he made something that represented me,” Graham said.
As for what she’ll do once her reign as Miss Teen USA is over, Graham said she is looking forward to finishing college and pursuing an acting career. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but knows the pageant world will always hold a place in her heart.