About 2,000 people turned out Saturday to welcome home the woman who put North Dakota "on the map."

In the crowd were young girls — and boys — who cheered when North Dakota's first Miss America made an appearance at her homecoming party at the Bismarck Event Center.

Little girls donned their own plastic foam crowns and held onto their own wishes that they, too, could one day make history.

"I just want all these young girls, whether you're in North Dakota, whether you're in a state in a rural area, to know that if you can dream and you can work hard, you can become it," said Cara Mund, 23.

Since being crowned Miss America in September, Mund has traveled across the United States, living out of two suitcases and changing locations every 48 hours. Saturday was her first "official" homecoming party, and prior to the event she made stops at Sanford Children's Hospital to visit with patients.

Those who attended the homecoming party said they wanted to be there to greet Miss America on her trip back to the place she calls home.

“I think it’s a source of pride for North Dakota that we finally have a Miss America," said Heidi Allbee, who brought her two girls, 10 and 3. "And with having little girls, just showing them that they can achieve big things.”

Mund kicked off her homecoming tour on Friday in Williston. At a press conference Saturday morning, she said being crowned Miss America "was the one moment where my dreams came true.”

While competing for the Miss America title, Mund said she knew she wanted to leave her mark.

"Going into finals, I had already done what I’ve wanted to do, and that was to put North Dakota on the map," she said.

In her travels she's found there's a "lack of information" about North Dakota.

“A lot of people are just shocked,” she said, adding that she believes she broke a lot of stereotypes. “One of the first things I told the judges, I said, do not underestimate me. Just because I come from a smaller state, maybe I didn’t have as many girls at my state competition, doesn’t mean I don’t have those qualities of what it means to be a Miss America.”

At Saturday's event, Mund was met with music from her old Century High School band and cheer squad. She was bestowed a key to the city of Bismarck and commended by North Dakota's congressional delegation.

"She demonstrates that you have to work hard, and that if you have a big goal that you want to achieve — I mean a really big goal, like being Miss America — you have to be willing to pay the price, and you have to be willing to stick with it, and she is an inspiration for each and everyone of us," said Sen. John Hoeven.

Mund told the crowd that despite adversities, including taking four tries until she won Miss North Dakota, and self-doubt during the Miss America competition, she was honored to represent North Dakota.

“I also kept reminding myself it’s so much more than just myself, it’s the whole state of North Dakota," she said.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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