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05/05/2023 08:50 AM

Branford’s Karla Aponte Roque Wins Miss Connecticut USA

On April 16, Branford resident Karla Aponte Roque was crowned Miss Connecticut USA 2023 at the Marriott Hartford Windsor Airport. Next, she will compete for the title of Miss USA 2023. Photo by Mike Chaiken

In 2015, Karla Aponte Roque made it all the way to a semi-finalist spot in the Miss Massachusetts USA contest. In 2017, as a new Branford resident, she competed for the title of Miss Connecticut USA but was a non-finalist. In the ensuing years, Karla decided to concentrate on her nursing career.

This year, the very last year Karla was of eligible age to enter the competition, she decided to give it another shot, and she won.

On April 16, wearing the banner of Miss Greater New Haven, Karla was crowned Miss Connecticut USA 2023 during a spectacular pageant at the Marriott Hartford-Windsor Airport. Next, she will compete for the title of Miss USA 2023.

Today, the Branford resident says she’s grateful for her earlier Miss Connecticut USA pageant experience.

“I entered the first one when I first moved to Connecticut about seven years ago. You know, hindsight’s 20/20, and since then, something I’ve thought about a lot was that I was in no position to take on the task to represent the state and to represent the area that you come from, being so fresh and new to it,” says Karla.

Born in Puerto Rico (she uses the Spanish last name system, with “Aponte” coming from her dad and “Roque” coming from her mother’s side), Karla grew up in Massachusetts, where she entered her first pageant as a teen.

“I did my very first pageant when I was 15; it was a local Hispanic-oriented pageant. Then, I decided to up the ante and try for Miss America in the Miss USA organization.”

When taking her first shot at the Miss Connecticut USA title, Karla was a brand-new Branford resident who had moved to town with her fiancee, Shawn Paquette, who grew up in Branford.

“I’m actually really glad that I didn’t win the title that first year,” Karla says. “Because having won it now, I have a connection with the state, with my city, and being able to say I know where the best spots in town are, or I know where to take you hiking. I didn’t have that knowledge then like I do now.”

She also thought long and hard about entering the contest again. As the 2023 competition entry deadline rolled around, Karla knew it would be the last year she could enter (contestants can be no older than 28 at the start of the year).

“I was very skeptical about doing it again. I thought, ‘My time is done,’” Karla recalls.

Once she was in the competitive fray, “I felt like such an old veteran when I saw all the new girls! Your self-confidence kind of dwindles,” Karla says. “But you learn that’s okay. With age comes wisdom, experience. And I guess I was able to provide what they were looking for in this moment. Everyone is worthy. It’s just your time when it’s your time; and whether you’re able to handle the responsibilities that come with this title. It just was my year, as everyone says. It just ended up being the one.”

On the competition stage on April 16, things were definitely moving fast, but Karla feels her preparation paid off.

“You want to have a positive mindset, so you go in saying, ‘This could be me, this can be me,’ and you think about what you want to do with the title. You do try to mentally prepare yourself for what comes next because the last thing you want to do is get so caught off-guard that the whole experience can be overwhelming afterward.”

Karla knew she wanted to use the opportunity to bring to light organizations she supports, including the Alzheimer’s Association. She’s grateful that she had the chance to express her support in private interviews and on stage.

But then, there was also the surreal moment of standing on stage as a finalist.

“When I was holding hands with the first runner-up, I was just trying to breathe and take in everything because this was my last year. And in my heart, I just wanted to remember everything: what I felt like, the energy in the room, the lights that were so hot. That my feet hurt. That I’m hungry! I really wanted it to be imprinted in my brain, whichever way this was going to go, because I knew this was it for me when it came to this title,” says Karla.

When they called her name as the winner, “I thought I’d be more graceful,” she laughs. “My mouth was open wide, and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s me!’”

Karla feels staying true to herself may have helped her to win the crown.

“In my final question, I gave a shout-out to my sister when they asked me about social media. I even said, ‘I’m going to call out my sister and embarrass her.’ And that got the crowd laughing because everyone knows what it’s like to be embarrassed by your older sister or the other way around. And that’s the type of connection I’d like to continue to make, and I hope to do so on TV. It’s just recognizing that we are regular individuals that now have a little bit of a larger platform to share important topics.”

In addition to using her platform for advocacy of important programs, including the Alzheimer’s Association, there are many other ways Karla hopes to connect with her constituents as Miss Connecticut USA and, potentially, as the next Miss USA.

“For me, it’s healthcare; it’s being a nurse; it’s knowing what it’s like to have gone through moments like a tornado or moments of neglect as a child. These are stories that, at times, you feel alone when you’re going through them, but when you’re willing to open up about it, you realize not only how many people you can resonate with but you can help them. And that story will be the same from here to the Miss USA stage, and beyond being Miss Connecticut USA—it will be the same when I’m just Karla.”

Contestants have not yet been told when and where the Miss USA 2023 pageant will take place. Last year, it was held in Reno, Nevada, in the fall.

“I have a feeling it will probably be around that time again. Fingers crossed that’s what it is. That’s what my team is aiming for,” says Karla.

Coming from a small state, Karla would love to gain more support of her social media. She can be found and followed on Instagram @MissCTUSA and at @KarlaAponteRoque and on Facebook at Miss Connecticut USA and Karla Aponte Roque.

But most importantly, Karla simply wants to express her gratitude for the opportunity she’s been presented to represent her state. Her event appearance calendar is already filling up, and she welcomes more.

“This is something that I don’t take for granted. It isn’t something that I just view as a title. My goal is to fill my calendar up as much as I can, and to even beat out last year’s Miss Connecticut USA in going to events and activities that resonate with me, my state, and my town. I plan on being there for those organizations and groups and being a good representative of Connecticut. I want to make our state proud.”