Meet Clara Tyrel, your 2022 Miss Central New York
SUNY-ESF student wins Miss CNY 2022
As Clara Tyrel walked around the campus of SUNY Environmental College of Science and Forestry one March afternoon, those who crossed her path couldn’t help but see her white satin sash and diamond tiara. Some said nothing and stared, some smiled and said congratulations and others felt the need to strike up a conversation. No matter who they were, Tyrel greeted them with a bubbly, friendly, and charming personality that comes from more than seven years of competing in Miss America pageants. And it was the first time she had ever worn her accessories in public. Those people might’ve only noticed her for what she was wearing that day, but she was proud and unafraid to show them the title she had just earned.
Out of 11 contestants for the Miss Syracuse & Miss Central New York competition that took place at United Methodist Church in Syracuse Feb. 26, Tyrel and two other candidates were awarded a $1,500 scholarship and crowned misses, which secured them as titleholders within the Miss America Organization. As Miss Central New York, Tyrel will have the opportunity to compete at the Miss New York competition in June.
“It’s exciting and very overwhelming,” Tyrell said. “I spent from the time that I was 13 to the time that I was 17 as someone who was mentored by the misses, so being a miss now and being that person who’s mentoring teenagers and young adult women is just a surreal experience.”
Every Miss America titleholder is required to work toward changing society with a specific social impact for one full year after securing a title. As a junior conservation biology major with special interests in invasive species and dendrology (the scientific study of trees), Tyrel is planning an initiative called “Puddle to Planet: The Global Implications of Clean Water Systems,” an opportunity to express the importance of clean and accessible water to everyday people.
“It’s about advocating for people in the City of Syracuse to have non-lead pipes in old houses and bringing awareness to people that not everybody has clean water,” Tyrel said. “We have to work together and put our money and our votes where our mouth is in making sure that we are all as healthy as possible.”
Tyrel said she also hopes to increase her initiative with help from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, where she has worked in their summer camp programs since she was 14, to educate children on how to create positive relationships with the outdoors.
“Especially city schools, a lot of kids don’t have that opportunity to really appreciate the outdoors the way that you can,” Tyrel said. “I’m lucky enough to have parents and grandparents that love the outdoors, so getting kids that don’t have a role model in the outdoors is the first step to bring our youth to being the future of the environment.”
Competing in pageants and winning scholarship money was one of the ways Tyrel has paid for college, but even as a hobby, Tyrel recognized that pageantry holds many misconceptions. Tyrel said the Miss America Organization focuses on promoting individuality, celebrating diversity, and giving young women a platform to excel as professionals, not just for the way they smile or how they look in a dress.
“If you were to look at what people think pageants are, everyone looks cookie-cutter exactly the same,” Tyrel said. “You are pretty, you wear pretty dresses, and you move on with life from there. But it’s just not what Miss America is. It’s people from all backgrounds and all areas. I don’t have to look the same as everybody else because that wouldn’t be enriching our community in any way, shape, or form.”
Her initial interest in Miss America started from a young age, especially when she grew closer to Nina Zesky, a former Miss Central New York in 2016, and Miss Buffalo in 2020. Tyrel’s mother was Zesky’s seamstress, helping her with designing and altering her talent costumes for her pageant competitions as a dancer. When Tyrel started pageantry in the organization’s teen program, Zesky helped Tyrel with her interview skills, community outreach, and professional goals. Zesky, who has a neurological disorder that impacts her vision, wears specific prescription lenses and said she was one of the first Miss America candidates to wear her glasses during competition, something that wasn’t traditionally done in Miss America. When Tyrel needed glasses too, especially after a sports accident caused a traumatic brain injury in high school, Zesky saw similarities in her disorder to Tyrel’s post-concussive syndrome, so she recommended Tyrel try the same type of lenses she wears.
“I wore my glasses for years on stage once I made that decision, and it was kind of a big deal,” Zesky said. “A lot of people didn’t like that, but it was the only decision for me. I’m happy that I was able to rub off on her in that way. Not only was I able to help her find a solution to her problem but also to show her that it’s OK to just be literally yourself on stage.”
As her mentor, Zesky is excited to see Tyrel compete for Miss New York as her first opportunity to talk to, learn from and engage with dozens of other talented women from across New York State, something Zesky did eight times during her career. Seeing Tyrel the night she won Miss Central New York, wearing a dress that was formerly in her wardrobe and glasses that defined her identity as a pageant queen, Zesky couldn’t be more proud.
“She brought it to every single part of the competition and performed better than I’d ever seen her perform,” Zesky said. “So when they called her name as one of the titleholders, I was just beside myself because it’s a really big deal to get a Miss title. A lot of teens have a really tough time making that transition, and she’s really been able to do it in a way that is so authentic and so true to her.”
Besides pageantry and the environment, Tyrel is a Fayetteville, New York native who also enjoys playing the bagpipes in her spare time. It’s a skill she not only has used for her talent portion of her competitions but also in service to her community for the Fayetteville Fire Department as their official bagpiper and as a member of the City of Syracuse Highland Pipe Band.
Before the Miss New York competition in June, in-between her schoolwork, and throughout her year of service as Miss CNY, Tyrel hopes to continue her outreach, promote environmental cleanups for the area and teach environmental conservation in local classrooms. If she won Miss New York, the next step would be competing for Miss America.
“It’s a big microphone if you’re Miss America, but say I just stay as Miss Central New York, it’s incredible for me because I love this community, it’s one of the best places for environmental conservation, and it’s where I’ve grown up.”