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Columbia Business Monthly

UofSC grad and lawyer Cheslie Kryst is making her mark as Miss USA

Aug 07, 2019 11:58AM ● By Leigh Savage

In court, lawyers have to display confidence, express themselves clearly, and convince a judge to choose them--skills that, as Cheslie Kryst found, translate very well to beauty pageants. 

"For both, you don't know the judges' background or personal beliefs, and you're unsure of how to convince them. You just have to prepare the best that you can, explain your points concisely, and hope the judges select you," she says. "Maybe that's why there are so many women in pageants with a legal background!"

Kryst, who graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2013, is an attorney at Poyner Spruill in Charlotte and the reigning Miss USA, earning her crown in May. She grew up in Charlotte and then Rock Hill, and went to the University of South Carolina inspired by her stepfather, a graduate and avid Gamecock fan. She ran track, attended the Honors College, and earned a B.S. in business administration from UofSC's Darla Moore School of Business before earning her law degree and an MBA from Wake Forest University. 

While Kryst had participated in a few smaller pageants in high school, she didn't compete in college, mainly because it didn't work with her track schedule. She started competing in pageants as a law student, and in the end, the third time was the charm when she was named Miss North Carolina USA 2019 and then Miss USA. 

At the moment, Kryst is taking a year off from her law firm as she works for the Miss Universe organization in New York City. While she appreciates the salary and travel that come with the post, one of her favorite aspects of the win is the chance to pursue and publicize causes she cares about. "Two are very important to me," she says. "Dress for Success, and speaking out about criminal justice reform." 

Kryst got involved with Dress for Success when she was looking to donate some of her professional clothing. A Google search connected her with the organization, which has the mission of empowering women to achieve economic independence through support, professional attire, and development tools. The current Miss USA knows the importance of the right attire in forging a career, and even runs her own fashion blog, "White Collar Glam," to offer workwear fashion inspiration.

Kryst is on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Carolinas, and speaks on criminal justice reform as a national impact ambassador. 

Next up is the Miss Universe pageant, likely in December, though its location has not been announced. Host countries in the running include the Philippines and South Korea, and Kryst is excited to see where the pageant takes her. 

After the pageant whirlwind subsides, she plans to return to the practice of law, where she has focused on civil litigation and commercial defense work. She appreciates that Poyter Spruill has many attorneys with different specialties, and she wants to learn more about them as she forges her own path.

She also plans to continue doing pro bono work for clients who have been given what she views as excessive sentences. "When you help a client get released from federal prison, it's indescribable, knowing you were able to give someone the freedom they deserve," she says.