Road to the crown: Miss Iowa shares her journey to Miss America

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 10:43 PM CST
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - At 12-years-old, Grace Lynn Keller had a goal of competing for Miss America on the 100th anniversary. Now, several years later, that dream is becoming a reality; she is now Miss Iowa heading to the Miss America competition.

While watching the competition on TV and meeting some of the women who competed, Keller says she knew one day she wanted to be competing just like the incredible, high-achieving women she watched growing up.

She competed in the teen division for Miss Iowa and once college came around she just wanted to focus on being a student and getting her degree. During her senior year, Keller says she was bitten by the pageant bug.

This was Keller’s first year competing for Miss Iowa and was planning on just getting her feet wet and trying again the next year, but to her surprise, she won. “Having the dream of doing the 100th anniversary and then actually doing it is just, I can’t even put into words how crazy it is.”

Part of her job as Miss Iowa is having a social impact initiative, and Keller’s is Read to Succeed. Where she promotes literacy in grades kindergarten through the third grade. Her goal is to help children read at their grade level by the time they are in their third year of elementary school.

Keller has done her research for her initiative and says, studies show children who are not reading at their grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school on time. She also says for low-income schools, the number goes up by 20%.

Keller says, “I’m really trying to stop that problem at its source by getting students all reading at grade level by third grade. It’s so crucial that we have those high literacy rates, so those students can go on and achieve whatever they want to achieve in life. Also, really lessen those dropout rates right at the root source.”

When it comes to the Miss America competition and winning the crown. Keller says she wants to continue helping students achieve reading proficiency. While speaking with her, she said she will partner up with United Way in the quad cities to bring back their program, Read for Tomorrow. The program was put to rest by Covid, and now she wants to bring it back.

Both United Way and Read to Succeed serve the same purpose, to help kids with their reading ability. “My goal as Miss America is to use my connections at the United Way to take that program nationally so that schools across the country, especially in those low-income areas, can start programs up and find volunteers to work with them and really have that ninety percent success rate for those students who need it most and fix those inequitable literacy rates.”

The inspiration behind Keller’s initiative as Miss Iowa was her fourth grade teacher. Being told by her teacher that reading makes you smarter triggered something in Keller to pick up the books and read. Now, she is helping other students to do the same on her road to the crown.

Miss Iowa Grace Lynn Keller competes for the crown at the Miss America competition on December 16.

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