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story.lead_photo.caption Claudia Raffo of Jonesboro is crowned Miss Arkansas 2018 by her predecessor, Maggie Benton, at the annual pageant Saturday night in Little Rock. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

When I called two weeks ago, Miss Arkansas Claudia Raffo was headed from Little Rock to her hometown of Jonesboro and thinking about the eight bags she still had to finish packing.

It was the day before the 22-year-old flew out of Memphis to Atlantic City, N.J., for Miss America activities and preliminary competitions, leading up to tonight's televised pageant.

Still, Raffo took time to answer questions about recent pageant changes and controversies -- congenially, of course.

On participating in the revamped Miss America 2.0: "What I have held on to the most throughout this whole process is that the core values of our system haven't changed -- and that's scholarship and service. My platform is still umbilical cord donation, and I'm still going to get to travel around the state of Arkansas and promote that. ... And scholarship, because of Miss Arkansas, I've paid off my undergrad at Arkansas State University and have three years of pharmacy school paid off."

On the elimination of the swimsuit competition: "I was sad at first because I've benefited from swimsuit," she says about the category that helped her to win nearly $10,000 during four years of competing for Miss Arkansas.

On other changes: "Really we want Miss America 2.0 to be very well-spoken; you're going to see a lot of public speaking on the Miss America stage. ... Instead of evening gown, we've changed it to an evening wear competition," and contestants will present their platforms.

On Miss America Cara Mund's letter calling out new pageant leadership for marginalizing her: "It's heartbreaking. ... I hate that she's not going to look back on her year and think of all the wonderful things that have happened; she's going to remember all of the things that are in that letter. I got to meet Cara. ... She is wonderful in every way."

On moving forward: "Change is hard in general. ... And I just hope that we can learn from the experience and come out at the end of this ... with the new Miss America that is crowned and have a better organization in general."

On advice from her father, ASU baseball Coach Tommy Raffo: "'You can't control the uncontrollable.' ... I can't let anything distract me from the fact that I am representing Arkansas on a national level."

And she'll represent at 8 p.m. today when The 2019 Miss America Competition airs on ABC.

Email: jchristman@arkansasonline.com

SundayMonday on 09/09/2018

Print Headline: PAPER TRAILS: Miss Arkansas talks about Miss America Pageant ahead of tonight's competition

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