"I knew I had to keep pushing forward and keep pushing through until I made it to that Miss USA stage,” Voigt tells PEOPLE
This year’s winner of the Miss USA title made history with her victory — but her work isn't stopping there.
Noelia Voigt, 23, earned the title of Miss USA 2023 on Friday at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada, beating out runner-up Miss Hawaii Savannah Gankiewicz and second runner-up Miss Wisconsin Alexis Loomans for the coveted crown.
The childhood cancer survivor from Utah tells PEOPLE that though her victory still does not feel real at times, she is excited to make her mark as the first Venezuelan-American to become Miss USA.
“Miss USA is a symbol of unity and diversity and inclusivity,” Voigt says. "If the United States is going to call themselves the land of opportunity and a place where you can achieve the American dream … Miss USA should be able to represent all of them.”
Voigt says she spent years preparing for Miss USA. She was first-runner up in her state’s pageant three times before she won — becoming the first Venezuelan-American woman to win the title of Miss Utah — and advanced to the national competition.
Despite initially falling short of her goal, she “always walked away with something valuable."
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“It would've been very easy for anybody to get first runner up three times and just say, ‘Oh, I'm done. I can't do this anymore.’ But for me, it wasn't that way,” Voigt says.
“I knew I had to keep pushing forward and keep pushing through until I made it to that Miss USA stage,” she continues.
Voigt is following in the footsteps of R’Bonney Gabriel, who was the first Filipino-American woman to win Miss USA in 2022. Gabriel later went on to win Miss Universe and passed down her Miss USA crown to Miss North Carolina Morgan Romano.
As the reigning Miss USA, Voigt aims to connect with Venezuelan Americans and other Latin American communities “on a deeper level."
“That's what I'm here for,” she tells PEOPLE.
Voigt — who is the author of a children’s book that honors the life of a 9-year-old girl who died by suicide “because of how badly she was bullied” — also hopes to continue her anti-bullying advocacy and raising awareness about teen dating violence.
Additionally, she dreams of tackling a number of other issues that are important to her, from animal welfare to skin cancer awareness.
The Utah woman, who was diagnosed with skin cancer at age 15, wants to educate young people about the disease and share important tips to help avoid it or catch it early, such as visiting a dermatologist.
“If I didn't, then who knows what would've happened to me,” she says.
Now, Voigt is moving on to the Miss Universe, which will be held Nov. 18 in El Salvador. Her predecessor, Gabriel, is still the reigning champion.
“Let's see if we can do it back-to-back for USA,” Voigt says.
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