Montclair State graduate Kaitlyn Schoeffel, wearing a light teal dress and silver heels, walked through Life Hall on a recent visit to campus. She greeted former professors, regaling them with colorful accounts of her most recent accomplishments. The Egg Harbor Township native openly reminisced about the days when she was a student at Montclair State University. All the while, aspiring dancers craned their necks to catch a glimpse of 2017’s Miss New Jersey.
Schoeffel was one of 15 young women chosen to participate in the final round of the 91st Miss America pageant, which was broadcast live from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey on Sept. 10 of this year. Wowing judges and audience members alike with a jazz dance routine set to “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, the 24-year-old walked away from the competition as the second runner-up, right behind first runner-up Miss Missouri, Jennifer Davis, and winner Miss North Dakota, Cara Mund. Despite not winning the title or the $50,000 scholarship that came with it, Schoeffel spoke proudly of how far she’s come.
“It’s really just a dream come true,” Schoeffel said. “I was born in Atlantic City, so I grew up around the Miss America competition. My mom [Margot Schoeffel, who won Miss Gloucester Township in 1980 and Miss Cumberland County in 1983] competed when she was younger, so to finally follow in her footsteps was just amazing.”
For the Montclair State alumna, who graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and a double minor in dance and political science, the road she’s traveled down has been a long one. She first started on the pageant circuit at age 13 and after competing in several open pageants, won the 2007 Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen pageant, which was an exhilarating and nerve-wracking experience.
“For me, it was still so new,” Schoeffel said. “I really didn’t know what I was doing at that point because I was only 13. I didn’t have that much experience. It was so exciting and thrilling, but I was still so young.”
Schoeffel was not afraid to admit that she still feels nervous whenever she competes.
“I think that with every performer, there always needs to be a little bit of nervous energy, because otherwise, then you’re just complacent and too comfortable,” Schoeffel said. “I enjoy performing and I enjoy competing, but there’s always that sense of butterflies that you get before a show.”
Butterflies have not stopped her from pursuing her passions, one of which is dance. She has been committed to the craft since she was five years old, referring to it as a true love.
Another one of Schoeffel’s many passions is providing access to the arts, which is the primary basis of her pageant platform “Operation Empowerment.” Through this platform, she gives children who are either disabled or come from low income areas the opportunity to take singing, dancing and acting lessons as well as the chance to experience live theatre through her partnership with several community theaters.
On the subject of her career, Schoeffel said she plans on pursuing graduate school once she finishes her responsibilities as Miss New Jersey next year. She also plans on taking a six night trip to Argentina, one of the many prizes she won while competing on “The Price Is Right” earlier this year.
When asked about what she would say to her younger self, she simply smiled and said, “To be more mindful of the journey.”
Schoeffel noted that it took her six attempts to become this year’s Miss New Jersey. It was only after reaching her goal that she realized that there are even greater goals to attain in life; that the journey would always be far from over.