Savannah Gankiewicz is crowned Miss USA

Savannah Gankiewicz is crowned Miss USA

The Maui native wants to highlight the Lahaina & Kula fires.

Alfredo G. Evangelista | Assistant Editor

In early May, the world of Miss USA was turned upside down when the 2023 Miss USA Noelia Voigt resigned. Social media was abuzz and the Miss USA Facebook page posted “We respect and support Noelia’s decision to step down from her duties. The well-being of our titleholders is a top priority, and we understand her need to prioritize herself at this time. We are currently reviewing plans for the transition of responsibilities to a successor, and we will soon announce the crowning of the new Miss USA.”

Governor Josh Green crowns Savannah Gankiewicz as Miss USA.
Photo: Mark Salondaka

Beauty pageant aficionados began speculating who would be crowned. After all, right before a queen is announced, the host usually stresses the importance of the first runner up in words like “In the event the queen is unable to complete her reign, the first runner up will become queen…”

Those who followed the 2023 Miss USA pageant knew 2023 Miss Hawaii USA Savannah Gankiewicz, a Maui native, was the first runner-up.

Three days later, the announcement came. “The Miss USA Organization is thrilled to announce that Miss Hawaii USA Savannah Gankiewicz is Miss USA 2023. She will be crowned in her native state of Hawaii in a celebratory coronation on Wednesday, May 15,” said a post on the Miss USA Facebook page.

As Miss Maui USA, Savannah Gankiewicz volunteered with guest Chef volunteer Chef Andre of Montage Hotel for the Binhi at Ani Bayanihan Feeding Program.
Photo courtesy Melen Agcolicol

“We are proud to crown Savannah Miss USA 2023, a true representation of vision, intelligence, and compassion,” said Miss USA Organization CEO & President Laylah Rose. “Her dedication to empowering women through self-love and confidence is inspiring, and we look forward to her impactful reign as Miss USA.”

“I fully support and respect Noelia’s decision to step down, and I stand in solidarity with mental health awareness,” Savannah said. “I accept the crown knowing that I have been uplifted by my supporters, family, friends, and the people of Hawaii throughout this journey. I accept this title on their behalf. To my fellow Miss USA sisters, I believe it’s crucial for us to stand united for the future of the organization and the incoming class of 2024 and beyond. I pledge my wholehearted support to the new delegates who have dedicated themselves to their state pageants, and I am committed to ensuring a seamless and memorable transition between Miss USA titleholders.”

Miss USA Savannah Gankiewicz first walk.
Photo Mark Salondaka

The Miss USA news release described Savannah as a “model, entrepreneur, and program director for What Makes You Feel Beautiful — a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering self-love throughout every stage and phase of life in girls and women of all ages. She also dedicates her time to facilitating the ‘F.L.Y. First Love Yourself’ youth program which empowers young women to develop self-love, confidence, and compassion.” Savannah was lauded for “stepping up to take the crown.”

Savannah, who utilized the Banyan Tree as part of her costume during the 2023 Miss USA pageant in Reno (and won the Best Costume award as well as the interview phase constituting fifty percent of the scoring), wants to refocus on the Lahaina rebuilding during her reign, according to the Miss USA pageant. “Savannah hopes to be a symbol of resilience and hope and bring the Aloha spirit across the nation. She would like to give support to her home island of Maui and put it back into the spotlight on the rebuilding process in Lahaina after the tragic fires nearly one year ago.”

Miss USA Savannah Gankiewicz spoke to a group of Lahaina fire survivors the day after she was crowned.
Photo: Yvienne Peterson

In Savannah’s first social media post after being named the successor, she promised “to always be transparent with you and to share my experience. I still believe in the Miss USA organization and its future, and my intention is to make positive changes from within and rebuild its legacy.”

Savannah also addressed the current state titleholders: “I want you to know that the Miss USA title will endure and it will give you the tools to achieve greatness. You just have to take leap of faith and believe in yourself.”

Savannah’s belief in herself was evident when she was crowned on May 15 by Hawaii Governor Josh Green. The words she used to describe her feelings were shock and gratefulness. “Hi everyone. Aloha! I am so shocked right now and I’m just so tremendously grateful. I am incredibly grateful to be standing here today in my home state of Hawaii and accepting this prestigious title. This moment means so much to me and being surrounded by my loved ones and community has truly filled me and my motivation to embrace this new chapter. While this decision was not made lightly, I firmly believe that this opportunity was meant for me and I am ready to make a positive impact with this organization that I hold dear to my heart.”

Miss USA Savannah Gankiewicz with her stepfather Garret, mother Yvienne, sister Natashya and cousin Jade.
Photo courtesy Yvienne Peterson

Savannah’s support from her loved ones was evident with the presence of her Mom Yvienne Peterson, her stepdad Gerrit Peterson, her siblings, as well as her maternal grandfather Orlando Tagorda and maternal grandmother Carmelita Omli, among others.

Savannah spoke of her journey and her commitment to be compassionate. “Through this journey, I have learned the importance of being a role model for young women, teaching them the value of self-love and empowerment. The personal growth that I have experienced has shaped me into a leader and individual and I am eager to use this Miss USA platform to inspire women to strive for greatness. I am forever grateful for the support of my fellow contestants and the friendships I have formed during my time at Miss USA. I am inspired by the dedication and determination of all the women who graced the Miss USA stage and I am committed to follow in their footsteps as a compassionate and impactful leader.”

With social media ablaze on the resignation and succession, Savannah noted her own experience and desire to make a difference. “As I embark on this unique reign, I am dedicated to taking action and making a difference. With my background as a certified mental health first aid responder and training in anti-bullying suicide prevention, I understand the importance of prioritizing your well-being and advocating for those in need. I believe that the true change starts from within and I am determined to lead by example and empower the class of 2024 and beyond to pursue their dreams and unwavering confidence and courage.”

Lending support to Savannah in addition to the Office of the Governor was the Miss Hawaii USA pageant and Savannah specifically thanked them. “Thank you to the Miss Hawaii USA State Pageant for being by my side through this journey, sharing in my dreams, and putting together such a beautiful coronation today that I will cherish forever.”

The next day, Savannah flew to Maui and met with a small group of Lahaina fire survivors. During the meeting, Savannah emotionally revealed how after it was announced she would be the successor, she herself was bullied. “Since I’ve gotten this title, I’ve dealt with a lot of bullying and harassment, and it really does, it breaks my heart. Sorry, I didn’t want to cry, but I just feel like it’s hard, because I wish people saw where my heart is coming from.”

The hurt was evident as Savannah broke down. Maui folks know Savannah’s heart for the people of Maui is true. As Savannah explained, she promised to keep the focus on Maui and use her voice to encourage young women. “And it’s helping Lahaina and helping Maui residents and having a platform, but also showing young women that you can get bullied and you can hurt but you stand back up and you keep going and you keep using your voice.”

Savannah, Maui is proud of you and despite your short reign, we know you will continue to make all of us proud and be an inspiration by your words and deeds. Aloha and Mabuhay!

Assistant Editor Alfredo G. Evangelista is a graduate of Maui High School (1976), the University of Southern California (1980), and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law (1983). He is a sole practitioner at Law Offices of Alfredo Evangelista, A Limited Liability Law Company, concentrating in estate planning, business start-up and consultation and nonprofit corporations. He has been practicing law for 40 years (since 1983) and returned home in 2010 to be with his family and to marry his high school sweetheart, the former Basilia Tumacder Idica.