Julia Crane is a seventh generation Vermonter, a third generation tap dancer, and a murder-comedy podcast enthusiast. She also happens to be Miss Vermont 2018.

Since her reign began last June, Crane has traveled 31,355 miles, visited twelve different states, and signed over 300 autographs, all in the name of her platform, “Be a Hero: Be an Organ Donor.” On June 1, her reign will officially end and she will crown her successor, Miss Vermont 2019.

“This year I saw two of my biggest dreams come true—I was crowned Miss Vermont and my best friend had a double lung transplant,” said Crane while describing highlights from her reign.

Her advocacy for organ donation was inspired by childhood friend, Courtney, who Crane has known since they were in 7th grade. Courtney was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at seven months old, but her lung function continued to decline as she grew older, forcing her to live in and out of the hospital.

Miss Vermont 2018 Julia Crane hugs her childhood friend Courtney Billings.

“My platform came out of a space where I felt so helpless. I couldn’t do anything for her but wait for someone to give her the ultimate gift. The platform is something I can do,” Crane said, her voice slower and more pointed than before. “One hundred twenty-thousand other people are on the transplant list—those are other people’s Courtneys.”

It took five years for Courtney to get on the transplant list, almost in sync with Crane’s journey to Miss Vermont. Finally, on Oct. 15, 2018, only 4 months into her reign as Miss Vermont, Crane got a phone call.

“The stars aligned,” she said—a pair of lungs were waiting for Courtney and somehow, Crane had the next few days off of work. “I have goosebumps just thinking about it,” Crane said, moving her hand over her forearm to feel the hair stand on end. She smiled. “Court just texted me the other day that she went for a run.”

Last April, Governor Phil Scott signed a proclamation designating April as Donate Life Month, at which Crane spoke about the importance of becoming an organ donor. According to Scott’s proclamation, “there are more than 113,500 Americans, with more than 5,000 in New England, who are currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.”

Crane has found a passion for advocacy, creating policy, and being a “spokesperson for people who don’t have a voice,” she said.

One of her favorite things is watching the stereotype of what a pageant girl is crumble when people meet her. “There’s such a preconceived notion of what kind of person does pageants, and what a pageant represents,” she said, then goes on to describe one particular moment that touched her. “When little girls meet me they are one of two extremes: they’re either incredibly shy, or they have a meltdown. I heard this one little girl ask her mom, ‘How do you become Miss Vermont?’ And the first two things that she said were, ‘You have to be smart and you have to do community service.’ I’m so proud to be part of the reason that stereotype is fading.”

From pageants to tap dancing to school, it is clear that Crane is one in a long line of strong women. Two of her biggest supporters are her mother and her grandmother, the latter of which passed 16 days after Crane was crowned Miss Vermont. Both women were tap dancers before Crane, and both still have their maiden name, a tradition for women in her family. She says it is one of her favorite “fun facts” to tell at pageants, because of the different reactions she receives.

Another highlight from Crane’s reign was winning Miss Congeniality at the Miss America pageant in September 2018.

“I realized people think I’m funny,” she said laughing, still somewhat flabbergasted. “Every girl goes into the competition thinking they could be Miss America. But when I got there, I realized that I’m supposed to be Miss Vermont, and the best Miss Vermont I can be. So I was able to just really enjoy this opportunity and have a good time.”

Crane completed a Master’s degree in Public Health from UVM at age 22.

Crane found her niche as the comedic relief, prompting her peers to vote her Miss Congeniality. It was a beam of light during, what she calls, a “very tumultuous time in pageants,” due to changes in the national and state board rules, as well as a change in leadership within the national pageant. Most notably, the swimsuit portion of the competition was removed from Miss America and CEO, Sam Haskell, resigned after emails describing former Miss America contestants in offensive language were leaked.

“Community support wasn’t the same as in past years, so we found support in each other,” said Crane. “I think you’d be hard pressed to find a closer class.”

In addition to her platform and duties as Miss Vermont, Crane also works as a crisis clinician at Howard Center. Recently, she worked an overnight shift at the center, and then headed to a Women Persist 5k the next morning, to run as Miss Vermont—she’s become quite adept at applying makeup in the car.

Even though Crane’s job requires her to manage crises daily, she found that the normalcy of work kept her calm throughout a year of change. “Work helped to ground me,” she said. “I’m always trying to add perspective to my life. Knowing Courtney helped me do that—not a lot of kids know what that’s like. And this job gives me perspective as well.”

While Crane received her master’s degree in public health, she hopes to enter into law someday. She’s not saying no to more pageants, but her dream is already accomplished—what could be better than Miss Vermont? As far as her future goes, Crane is relishing her freedom.

“This is the end of a chapter,” said Crane, who competed for Miss Vermont for five years before winning, all while attending undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Vermont.

But despite the lack of sleep, constant appearances, and hours spent traveling, Crane feels that the end is bittersweet. “I’ve never had such an abrupt ending to a chapter without a set plan. After high school there was college, after undergrad there was grad school, and after the first pageant, there was always next year,” she said. “It’s wonderfully scary.”