Latter-day Saint Life

Meet the Latter-day Saint competing in Miss America 2023

Sarah Sun was crowned Miss Utah on June 10, 2023.
Photo by Greg Baird, courtesy of Sarah Sun

Sarah Sun competed in the Miss Utah pageant because she wanted to share the gospel. And since becoming Miss Utah on June 10, 2023, Sarah has shared the good news of her faith at every possible moment.

“I've had so many opportunities to share the gospel as Miss Utah,” Sarah says. From sharing her inspiring conversion story and testimony to praying the Spirit would touch people’s hearts, Sarah has striven to be a window to the light of Christ. “So that when people see me, they see Him.”

Before she ever stepped onto the stage at the Miss Utah competition to share her faith, Sarah spent two years investigating the Church and served a full-time mission—so she’s more than ready to handle the tricky questions that come her way as a Latter-day Saint at the 2023 Miss America competition. Sarah knows the power of simple testimony. Because ultimately, it was not the elegant words of scholars or celebrities that convinced her to join the Church; it was the profound Spirit, invited by simple testimony, that pierced her heart and directed her path.

Throughout Sarah’s conversion and her life since, the Spirit has played an integral role in directing her where the Lord needs her most—often requiring her to courageously walk alone or sacrifice her hard-earned dreams for something better. Reading Sarah’s story of how she faithfully followed spiritual promptings can inspire others to seek the guidance of the Spirit in their everyday lives too.

Knowing the Spirit

When Sarah first started looking into the Church, she focused on sophisticated questions that were difficult for people to answer. “But a pivotal moment in my investigation was when I started asking questions that I thought I already knew the answer to,” Sarah says. At 15, Sarah thought she knew the answer to the simple question she asked a friend as they sat at the front of the school bus together, returning home from a school field trip—but her friend’s simple response took her by surprise.

Sarah noticed that her friend was wearing a Young Women medallion, and she asked about the significance of her necklace. “I knew exactly what she was going to say,” Sarah says, “and while she did say those words, they felt completely different.” Sarah vividly remembers the moment because her friend’s simple testimony of the temple helped Sarah feel the Spirit in a way she hadn’t before—and it pierced her heart.

Sarah felt the same Spirit when she sat outside the Cedar City Utah Temple with another friend who taught Sarah the plan of salvation for the first time. “When I heard this plan laid out in its entirety, I was touched by the way it answered every question I had about the nature of my Heavenly Father,” Sarah says. “It was a plan that felt so just, so merciful, and so inclusive … And I so desperately wanted it to be true.”

Sarah eventually accepted that friend’s invitation to meet with the missionaries, but her conversion wouldn’t fully take root until her family moved from Cedar City to Salt Lake City.

Finding Her Place

Ever since she can remember, Sarah’s goal has been to attend an Ivy League school. When she was 16 years old, her family moved to Salt Lake City, a decision significantly motivated by the opportunity to complete the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program to enhance Sarah’s academic competitiveness as an ivy-league applicant. In Salt Lake, the Latter-day Saints in Sarah’s area “adopted” her as their own, and she began to look up to each member, both in their professional lives and in the way they lived the gospel. However, it wasn’t until a pivotal experience in New York City that Sarah knew it was time to be baptized.

Sarah was in New York City preparing to perform a piano solo at Carnegie Hall, one of the most famous and prestigious music venues in the nation, when at the last minute, her scheduled practice room fell through. Needing a place to prepare for her performance, she said a quick, silent prayer in the subway station and then looked up to see two sister missionaries who pointed her to a nearby chapel where she could practice. As she emerged from the subway, she saw the Manhattan New York Temple with The Juilliard School across the street. Church News reported on this event:

“To be this small-town girl from Cedar City, Utah, feeling like the two most personal buildings in the world are right across the street from each other, in the biggest city in the world, made me feel like God was aware of me,” she said. “It almost felt like He had planned the city around me for that moment.”

As she entered the chapel where the Manhattan temple is also housed, she felt an overwhelming feeling of peace. She knew that she belonged.

“I came home, called my bishop and said, ‘I’m ready to be baptized,’” she said.

And she was on April 21, 2018.

Sharing the Gospel

Since Sarah spent years asking tough questions about the Church, she was well prepared for her faith to be questioned when she moved across the country to attend Cornell University and pursue a degree in applied economics and management. When her peers and classmates learned that Sarah was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they were often surprised and told Sarah that she was not at all what they expected from a member of the Church. Sarah viewed every conversation about her faith as one where she could share goodness and light, and she was eventually elected to serve on the Cornell Student Assembly as Freshman Representative.

Cornell wasn’t the only place Sarah would share the gospel—she also did it in her home as the only member of the Church in her family. And while she didn’t plan on that changing any time soon, Sarah’s sister, Anna, noticed the impact the Church made on her sister and joined just four months after. When Sarah returned home from her first year of college due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she taught her mother about the Restoration and the plan of salvation from start to finish. Sarah then challenged her mother to be baptized, and she accepted. Sarah’s father soon followed.

One month before Sarah was set apart as a full-time missionary for the Mormon Battalion Historic Site and the California Riverside Mission, her parents were baptized. “From very early on, I think my parents saw that there was something special about how [Latter-day Saints] lived their lives,” Sarah says, speaking of the many people who fellowshipped her and her family over the years.

While serving her mission, Sarah often thought about the meaning of eternal families—something she taught nearly every day while waiting to participate with her family in the sealing ordinance. “There were so many times on my mission where I would just think, ‘One day, my own family is going to be sealed.’ I had no idea when that would be. I figured it would be in years or decades.”

But Sarah didn’t have to wait decades—she was sealed to her parents and sister on May 18, 2023, in the Cedar City Utah temple. “To be in the sealing room with my sister and parents next to my side—it was something I never thought was possible in this life.”

Sarah’s missionary service also greatly impacted her academic plans. Having grown up in a home where her parents were both professors of music, Sarah learned to play the piano at a young age. She often shared her gifts on her mission, including composing an arrangement of “Beautiful Savior” for a fireside. While working on the piece, Sarah remembers that the Spirit pierced her heart—much like it had when she was first learning about the Church. “I was a little taken aback,” Sarah recalls. “I had to stop playing to ponder the significance of what I was feeling.”

The Spirit continued prodding Sarah for some time until she began to feel that her talent needed to be further developed after her mission. “The mission changed my paradigm on what it meant to pursue music. I think [music] is one of the most powerful ways to serve people and to connect with them. […] Music can transcend worldly barriers.”

Sarah’s music transcended barriers between her and friends of the Church and influenced them to seek truth in the gospel. As she observed her music’s impact, she had an undeniable prompting that she needed to pursue music—and that meant transferring to Brigham Young University, where she was readily accepted into the prestigious music program.

Sacrificing One Dream for Another

The decision to transfer schools was immensely difficult for Sarah; Cornell had been her goal and an important part of her identity. In wrestling with this choice, she concluded, “If I believe that Jesus is the Christ, if I believe that I am His disciple, and if I believe that the purpose of my life is to do His will at all times in all places, then I am willing to sacrifice anything in order to be obedient to his direction.”

So Sarah sacrificed her place at Cornell, where she was studying business, and transferred to BYU, where she is now pursuing a degree in music with the intention of attending law school. “I had known growing up that whether it be through music, whether it be through law, or whether it be through business, my mission as a human being is to positively impact the lives of other people.” And even though transferring was difficult, it opened up new doors for Sarah, including participating in the Miss Utah competition.

Sarah has had many opportunities to share the gospel on and off stage leading up to being crowned Miss Utah.
Photo by Chad Braithwaite, courtesy of Miss Utah Scholarship Organization Inc.

“One of the reasons I felt compelled to [do the] Miss Utah [pageant] is because I knew that God wanted me to be a missionary,” Sarah said. And she has had many opportunities to share the gospel on and off stage leading up to being crowned Miss Utah on June 10, 2023.

After being crowned, Sarah Sun was swarmed by other contestants as they chanted her name and cheered.
Photo by Chad Braithwaite, courtesy of Sarah Sun

When Sarah’s name was called, the contestants broke out into enthusiastic cheers, chanted Sarah’s name, and surrounded the new Miss Utah in a giant group hug—a display of camaraderie and love that showed the audience exactly why Sarah had also been named Miss Congeniality—a title reserved for contestants who foster positivity and friendship in the competition—earlier that week.

Now Sarah is serving the state of Utah and preparing for the Miss America pageant in December. “I'm excited about going to Miss America because I know that I will be able to represent the state and the Church in a fresh and unique way,” Sarah says. Sarah is a convert, a daughter of immigrant parents from China, and a woman of color: she represents an important part of the Church’s diverse membership.

For Sarah, the gospel is the motivating factor behind all her decisions, including her work as Miss Utah. “The gospel is the reason I do pageantry. It’s the reason I’m passionate about advocating for criminal justice reform. And if I succeed at Miss America, it will be because of Heavenly Father; it will have nothing to do with my own merit. It will be because of the ways God knows He can use me in that position.”

Sarah knows firsthand the challenges Latter-day Saints face, but she has a strong testimony that having faith is always worthwhile—no matter if you’re a new convert or a lifelong member. “Being a member of the Church can be hard, and you will be asked to do things in life that are difficult. We may be asked to make choices that appear to be a worldly downgrade, but we can know with certainty that we are opting into a spiritual upgrade. Having faith is not easy. But it is worth it.”

▶ You may also like: How a convert from Beijing shares God’s light with millions of Chinese people

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