A recent college graduate with special needs will compete in the Miss America pageant this fall with a platform focusing on overcoming disabilities.

Nicole Kelly, 23, was named Miss Iowa on Saturday. According to her biography, Kelly was born without her left forearm and plans to use her new position to speak out about disabilities and spotlight VSA, a program she participated in which provides opportunities in the arts for people with special needs.

“As I grew up I learned to counterbalance the initial stares I received from people with an outgoing personality that would not give in to ‘no,'” Kelly said in her bio.

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“This means that I tried everything. From baseball, to dance, to diving — there is nothing I would not try. I found my passion within a world where I was giving people permission to stare: the stage,” she said.

Kelly has a degree in directing and theater management from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and just finished working on the Broadway play “The Assembled Parties.”

With her new crown, Kelly will compete for the title of Miss America in the national pageant Sept. 15 in Atlantic City, N.J.

Kelly’s win comes on the heels of Alexis Wineman’s appearance in the last Miss America competition. As Miss Montana, Wineman was the first contestant with autism in the national pageant’s history.

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