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Hofstra leaders salute honor student who became Miss America

Miss New York Kira Kazantsev gasps after being

Miss New York Kira Kazantsev gasps after being named Miss America as she stands next to Miss Virginia Courtney Paige Garrett during the Miss America 2015 pageant on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Credit: AP / Julio Cortez

Hofstra University officials were beaming with pride Monday because the newly crowned Miss America 2015 was one of their star students.

Kira Kazantsev, 23, a 2013 graduate of the university's Honors College, went on to win the 94th competition of the iconic, nationally televised event.

It wasn't widely known on the Hempstead university campus that Kazantsev -- a triple major in political science, global studies and geography -- competed in pageants until she was named Miss New York last year.

"This did come out of the blue, to be honest," said Warren Frisina, dean of the Honors College. However, he called her achievement "remarkable" and said he was not at all surprised by her win. "She's very, very talented and extremely bright."

The university posted a congratulatory message to Kazantsev on Monday as well as a video of her winning moment.

Kazantsev's performance during the competition drew much attention. She sat cross-legged on stage singing Pharrell Williams' "Happy" while tapping on a red plastic cup.

"The reason why I chose to do that talent is I wanted every single little girl in America to be able to see that you can do that talent -- you can do whatever talent you want on national television -- even with a red cup -- and still be Miss America and have the time of your life," Kazantsev said in an Associated Press report. "I literally in that minute and 30 seconds had the most fun I've ever had, and that's because I stayed true to myself and I did what I wanted to do for my talent, no matter what everybody else told me, and it paid off. I'm very happy about it."

Her win in Atlantic City on Sunday night marked the third year in a row that a contestant representing New York had clinched the crown. Women from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico vied for the crown and sash.

Kazantsev was admitted into the university's Honors College, which has about 1,200 students, after she excelled scholastically in her first semester at Hofstra.

Students in the Honors College have an average GPA of about 3.46 out of 4.0, Frisina said.

During her time at Hofstra, Kazantsev was a student volunteer in the production of the 2012 presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, held on the campus.

The daughter of Russian immigrants, Kazantsev moved from California to attend Hofstra five years ago. In addition to English, she is fluent in Russian and Spanish. While at Hofstra, she spent a semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain, Frisina said. She plans to attend law school and has reportedly been accepted to Fordham University.

"It is nice to see someone like her held up as a role model," Frisina said.

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