AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– Karson Pennington was born and raised in Augusta, and now she’s headed to the Miss America stage.

“When they called my name as Miss Georgia, I don’t think I believed it. I kept looking down at the banner to see that it read Miss Georgia,” Pennington said.

“It was just a stunning moment,” Karson’s mother, Kathy Pennington said. “My daughter Kendyl was next to me and after they announced it she kept saying, ‘Your daughter is Miss Georgia!’ We were holding signs, and Kendyl had it gripped so tightly it broke. The sign broke!”

In the fall of 2020, Pennington graduated from the University of Georgia with two bachelors and a masters degree. Now, she’s working toward her PhD and the possibility of becoming the next Miss America.

“As a doctoral student, I was a teaching assistant this past semester at the University of Georgia for political science 1101,” Pennington said. “Being in the classroom, standing in front of students, teaching lectures, answering questions, having all of these moments really prepared me for having the job of Miss Georgia.”

But Pennington says she hasn’t always had the confidence to speak in front of people.

“When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with onset fluency disorder,” Pennington said. “I stuttered. I couldn’t get words out of my mouth.”

Her pediatrician recommended she read out loud. Pennington says learning to read at a young age was the first time she can recall feeling empowered. She plans to use her year as Miss Georgia to help children across the state feel that same empowerment from reading.

“It helped me overcome this temporary disorder that I had, and since then I’ve just wanted to share this message that literacy and education are the way to a successful life,” Pennington said.

She has partnered with ROAR, Reach Out and Read, which provides books to doctor’s offices to gift to children.

“Many people don’t recognize that the first time a child picks up a book might be while they’re sitting at a doctor’s office waiting to go back,” Pennington said.

Now she’s preparing for the 100th Miss America competition, and she tells me she wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for all the home town support.

“I just am so grateful for all the support and love that has been shown to her from this community her entire life,” Kathy Pennington said. “Not just this endeavor, it’s a cumulative process that started all the way back in elementary school.”

“The city of Augusta has really supported me in absolutely everything that I’ve done,” Karson Pennington said.”

The Miss America competition will be held in Connecticut this upcoming December.