Ki‘ilani Arruda of Kapa‘a, Miss Teen Hawai‘i, has done it.
She is the first teen from Kaua‘i, and second from the state, to win a Miss Teen USA title.
Arruda was named 2020 Miss Teen USA, crowned by Kaliegh Garris, Miss Teen USA 2019, on Saturday night at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. Kelly Hu won the same competition in 1985.
Arruda beat out 50 other girls nationwide, but did so with a humble heart, representing Kaua‘i.
As the locals would say, “Kaua‘i as why.”
“I am so excited to be your new Miss Teen USA,” said Arruda. “I still can’t believe it. Every single one of the girls up there with me would have been an amazing winner, and I am so excited it was me. I am so proud to represent Hawai‘i and my home island.”
Grateful for everyone’s support, Arruda is enjoying the moment with those closest to her, but looking forward to starting her lifelong platform inspired by her sibling.
“I can’t believe that I will fly home on Tuesday and bring the title home with me,” Arruda said. “I plan to use this platform to help advocate for those with autism, like my little brother. This is a dream come true for me, and I think you could see from my reaction that I truly couldn’t believe it.”
Paula M. Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, is impressed by how real Arruda is, and how she wants to bring awareness to children like her youngest sibling.
“The joy that Ki‘ilani radiated last night was so beautiful and genuine,” Shugart said.
“Leading with a heart like that, I know she will be a wonderful Miss Teen USA. I was so touched when I spoke with her to learn about her younger brother, and how he has inspired her in her philanthropic work as an advocate for those with autism.
“I was so impressed by her dedication to her studies as an honors student, and as a woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). I am so proud to help build a platform for women like Ki‘ilani to lead from, and I am excited to see how she uses this year to grow, learn and lead,” Shugart said.
Arruda graduated from Island School this year with a 4.0 GPA, served as student body president, and was a member of the varsity volleyball, swim, and track and field teams.
Currently, Arruda is a distance learner at the University of Puget Sound, studying molecular and cellular biology.
Arruda plans to continue her education at the Standford University School of Medicine to become a dermatologist. Inspired by her youngest brother’s autism, she has earned her Registered Behavior Technician license to advocate for him and others with autism.
In her free time, Arruda enjoys spending time with her ‘ohana at the beach, hiking, and gardening. She’s the oldest of three siblings.
“I want to say a big thank you to my mom Napualani, my dad Kaipo Kealalio, my little sister Lea and my little brother Channing for always being there for me and supporting my dreams from day one,” Arruda said. “They have really been the backbone of this whole entire experience, and I love you guys so much.”
Avery Kano, executive director of the Miss Kaua‘i USA organization, has his first title under his direction since he started building his organization a few years back. He will also be traveling with Arruda on Tuesday.
“A big shout out to Avery for everything he has done for me. He has been there since day one, and he took me all the way to the national title, so I am super grateful for him for being there for me, too,” Arruda said.
Arruda has started her duties already as Miss Teen USA, and is proud to represent Kaua‘i and the state.
“I just want to thank Kaua‘i so much. Kaua‘i has always been my home, and the community has just been so awesome to me,” Arruda said.
“And now that I have this title I would love to come home and give back to the community that has supported me so much throughout this journey. I love you, Kaua‘i.”
Miss USA 2020 aired live on the Miss Universe Organization social channels, including Facebook. Additionally, Miss USA will air live on FYI today from 8 to 10 p.m. EST, and will be simulcast across the country.
Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.