FREEPORT, Ill. (WTVO) — Miss Illinois USA 2023 Samantha Elliott has been riding horses since she was three days old. It’s not exactly what many people think of when they picture a pageant queen, but she’s breaking down those stereotypes just by being herself.

“The beauty of pageants is that everyone is completely different in their own way,” said Elliott. “And that’s why we all love coming together to learn about everyone else’s backgrounds.”

Elliott grew up on the outskirts of Freeport on a goat and horse farm. The Dakota High School graduate spent her summers traveling to goat shows with her brother.

“My goal when I was crowned was to give back to this community as much as I could because they are supporting me through all of this,” said Elliott. “I’m in a unique position to highlight an area that wouldn’t normally be highlighted in this way.”

Elliott has also used her title to promote financial literacy. After graduating from the University of Kansas with degrees in accounting and business analytics, the 22-year-old is currently working toward her Master’s in Accountancy from the University of Alabama.

“I teach both in Alabama and Illinois. I go into classrooms and I do a budgeting exercise with the kids and even just talk about the accounting profession because it’s not something kids are always aware of,” said Elliott.

Competing in pageants has made Elliott more outgoing and built her social skills. Even her farming background has helped since, after all, showing goats is a form of pageantry.

“Living on a farm translates to pageants through the work ethic,” said Elliott. “Growing up, I didn’t want to wake up at 5 a.m. to hand milk goats, but I did it. And it goes into pageant prep. You spend so much time prepping for a title. It takes a lot of work to do it and it takes a lot of work to be a title holder too.”

Her hard work paid off in September when she was called into the top 20 at the Miss USA competition.

“I had no composure at all because I was not expecting to be the first name called,” said Elliott. “You know, I didn’t win Miss USA, but I still get the honor of being Miss Illinois USA until May, so I still get to highlight our community until May.”

When Elliott is in Alabama during the week, it’s all schoolwork. But when she comes back home to Illinois each weekend, her time is dedicated to appearances and work in the stateline community.