Interview With Miss New Jersey USA 2023, Derby Chukwudi
The 72nd Miss USA Pageant will be held this coming September at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada. First-generation Nigerian-American and financial literacy advocate, Derby Chukwudi, will be representing New Jersey in the Miss USA Pageant.
Official dates are as follows: National costume - September 27, Preliminary competition - September 28, and Final competition - September 29. Chukwudi was born in Dallas, Texas, raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and currently lives in Hoboken, New Jersey where she is an Investment Strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank in their NYC office. Chukwudi aims to use her position as Miss New Jersey to spread awareness about financial literacy and push for financial education in schools.
Here at Garden State Woman, we had the pleasure of speaking with Chukwudi about her illustrious career in an interview where she shared her remarkable experiences, challenges she faced, and advice she would give to young girls.
- How did you become interested in competing pageants?
"One of my friends competed at Miss Nigeria USA in 2019 and I watched her journey. It was inspiring and I thought it would be cool to try out a pageant. In 2019, I reached out to the same pageant my friend had competed in, but they weren't planning another pageant soon. During my research, I stumbled on Miss New York USA and was redirected to Miss New Jersey USA. I was looking to try something new and go outside my comfort zone. When I first competed in 2021, I came up with the acronym TRY - Testing Realities for Yourself and that was my way of challenging myself to put myself out there and learn throughout the journey."
- What is your favorite part about?
"The growth journey and making connections with so many amazing women! When I look back to 2021 when I started competing, all is insane growth! I think it's a beautiful thing to watch yourself improve and also to have others who have been on that journey with you point out how far you've come.
In my opinion, the friendships and connections made at pageants is the real deal! You have many amazing women from all walks of life and pageantry creates an avenue to make real connections that can last a lifetime. I'm so thankful for all the friendships I have forged in this field and I look forward to forging even more relationships with my Miss USA sisters."
- What are some of the challenges you have overcome?
"Competing in 2021 and not placing was a challenge mainly because of the time, effort, and energy put into preparing. However, instead of being disappointed, I looked for the lessons in my experience. I think whenever we are faced with challenges, it is important to find the lesson because there is always one. For me, I celebrated the winner and the amazing women who placed that and took time to learn from them. With this perspective, it was a pleasant opportunity that I'm grateful for being a part of it.
Work has also taught me to work with different people who have different communication and leadership styles. I've learned the importance of cultivating relationships of all kinds both in pageantry and at work because life is all about relationships."
- How do you balance working full-time at JPMorgan and competing in the pageant?
"It is definitely an extreme sport! In the past when I've competed, I have done most of my preparation after work hours and during the weekends. This year is different as a titleholder because I have responsibilities. In the past 5 months, I have done 50+ appearances while also working full time and to achieve this, my organizational and time management skills have further developed. I have super early mornings (sometimes 4am/5am) and have to ensure that I prioritize my time and energy.
Competing at Miss USA is an opportunity of a lifetime, and this sets the tone of how I approach working and preparing for Miss USA. Sometimes balance doesn't exist because there's so much to get done in such little time. In all, I am so thankful because I know this experience is preparing me for the job of Miss USA!"
- What have you learned about yourself?
"I have learned that I am a force to be reckoned with, and sometimes I don't know realize this. I have learned to remember that I bring value into every room I walk in to. This entire journey is a source of inspiration to me on days when I face challenges or when new opportunities arise. Instead of backing down, I can stand up tall and raise my hands for the next challenge.
In this journey, I have confirmed my love for people and being a source of inspiration to them. I hope to continue inspiring people and shining my light wherever I go."
- What do you want people to know about you?
"I want people to know that beyond being a source of inspiration to others, I am on a mission to spread awareness on financial education. I believe that money conversations should not be a taboo and that schools should teach students in the classroom the importance of being financially confident. I like to say that money does not buy happiness, but it will determine how happy you will be. Everyone deserves to live a happy life."
- How did you get involved with the Invest In Girls (IIG) program? What is your favorite part about volunteering for IIG?
"In 2021, after deciding that I wanted to officially be a financial education advocate, I researched organizations currently doing similar work and I found IIG. I loved that there was a focus on high school girls through the mentorship program to provide them with exposure to opportunities in finance.
I loved the opportunity to be part of the journey of my mentee and serve as a resource to her. My favorite part of the program was getting to learn so much about my mentee and less than a year later hearing from her sharing the good news about getting admitted into an Ivy League University. Nothing feels better than this knowing my mentee took at least one thing with her from my partnership that impacted her growth."
- What advice do you have for young girls?
"I'll say to young girls to lean into your differences. It's not a negative thing, it is your superpower.
One of the things I liked about growing up in Nigeria is that my parents would always say, 'cheta ada onye i bu,' which means, 'remember the daughter of whom you are.' No matter what life brings in front of me, I remember my identity. I think a lot of young women these days tend to feed into comparison, especially on social media. I would tell them to focus on who they are, lean into their identity, and then write a story that they want to tell. It doesn't have to be a popular story; it is ok to be different. I'm always the person that is different and I love it. It's not always easy being different but it is very easy to blend in. Why would you want to blend in when you can be unique and different?"
- What is one of your favorite photos in your portfolio?
"Throughout this journey, I've taken a ton of photos, but I have to say my crowning photo at Miss New Jersey USA 2023 has to be one of my favorites. Something about the pictures from that night was so authentic, especially because as someone who doesn't cry in public, all my crowning pictures are full of tears."
Follow Derby Chukwudi on Instagram here.
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