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Alumnae Share a Crowning Achievement

Miss America contestants Jude Maboné, SIS/BA ’18, and Star Dahl-Thurston, Kogod/BA ’20, discover their unexpected AU connection at the 96th annual competition.

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Miss America contestants Star Dahl-Thurston, Kogod/BA ’20, and Jude Maboné, SIS/BA ’18, show their AU spirit.

Nearly 5,000 miles separate Jude Maboné’s Washington, DC, and Star Dahl-Thurston’s Honolulu. But at the 96th edition of the Miss America pageant earlier this month, the competitors were surprised—and delighted—to discover they had shared an address.

“I lived in DC for years,” Dahl-Thurston told Maboné as they walked and talked between pageant engagements during the weeklong event in Orlando, Florida. After mentioning AU, the native Hawaiian interpreted Maboné’s stare as unfamiliarity.

As Dahl-Thurston started explaining where the university is, Maboné excitedly tossed back, “I went to AU.”

Their Eagle roots aren’t the only the thing Maboné, SIS/BA ’18, and Dahl-Thurston, Kogod/BA ’20, have in common. Both were raised by empowering single mothers who encouraged self-expression, and each overcame adversity to claim the crown.

By age 18, Maboné, an elite runner, had survived six exercise-induced heart attacks. Unsure if she would get a long lease on life, Maboné—who ran track and field at AU—started a bucket list. Watching Miss Congeniality “for like the 100th time,” she felt inspired to add Miss America as a dream destination. Little did she know, she would make it to that stage—and use her platform to speak out about heart health.

For Dahl-Thurston, tragedy struck when her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Not long after graduating from AU, her mom went into remission—only for the cancer to relapse a year later.

Dahl-Thurston’s mom used to tease that her daughter would become Miss Hawaii, but the family joke snowballed into an earnest bid by Dahl-Thurston to realize the dream. “If I can get through losing my mom, then there’s nothing I can’t do,” she decided. As her self-esteem blossomed, a philanthropic idea took root: she could help other women heal and grow.

Maboné competed for Miss DC seven times before winning the title. A 2023 rule change, upping the Miss America age limit from 26 to 28, meant the veteran contestant could reenter the local circuit and revive her goal of competing nationally. In June 2023, the Miss DC sash finally settled over her heart. (Fellow Eagle Anna Ross, SPA/BA ’22, SOC/MA ’23, was named first runner-up.)

For self-described “newbie” Dahl-Thurston, on the other hand, “winning was never really [on] the horizon.” The real victory was reclaiming her emotional, mental, and physical fitness, she said—but sweeping Miss Chinatown Hawaii, a preliminary pageant, and Miss Hawaii on her first try was a welcome bonus.

Many people associate Miss America with beauty alone, but the organization “values whole people,” said Maboné. The opera singer who is fluent in American Sign Language would know. Through her Check Your Heart campaign, she educates the public about CPR and automated external defibrillators. Dahl-Thurston, a slam poet, is similarly multifaceted. Performing lines from her old journal entries, which chronicled the pain of losing her mother, she understood her story’s potential to help others. Today, her organization Kahua Kollective empowers women and builds community.

While neither Eagle took home the 2024 Miss America title, both emerged with winning aspirations.

Maboné plans to pursue graduate school in a new city—“then come back because [DC] is home.” An MBA Prep fellow through Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a professional-development nonprofit, she keeps busy with coaching sessions and seminars. She is also reigniting her focus on her small business, Old Flames Candle Company.

Meanwhile, Miss Hawaii has her sights set on the big screen. “I’m going try to write a few scripts,” Dahl-Thurston said, explaining how her foray into poetry boosted her creative confidence. She craves stories “authentic to who [her people] are as Hawaiians.”

Both Maboné and Dahl-Thurston are hanging up their crowns after the Miss America competition, but their changemaking advocacy—shaped by their lived experiences and honed at AU—will continue. So will their newfound friendship.