October 24, 2014
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Miss USA visits her Rhode Island hometown
Kim Kalunian
KEY TO THE CITY: Olivia Culpo shows off the handcrafted, pewter key to the city that Mayor Allan Fung presented to her.

Last week, Olivia Culpo, the first Miss Rhode Island to win the title of Miss USA, visited her home state. On Friday, Culpo spent the entire day in her hometown of Cranston, visiting familiar places and meeting with fans of all ages.

On Friday morning, Culpo visited the Cranston Public Library and read “The Giving Tree” to a small group of 4 and 5-year olds. She then signed autographs and took photos with the children and some of their parents. Afterwards, the library staff lined up for their chance to snap a shot with Miss USA.

Later in the afternoon, Culpo appeared with the Gloria Gemma Pink Bus in Garden City, promoting her platform of breast cancer awareness. Culpo also visited the Alex and Ani World Headquarters in Chapel View and the Cranston YMCA. According to her Twitter, Culpo even grabbed lunch in Warwick at Iggy’s.

Later in the afternoon, the newest Miss USA attended a celebration in her honor in front of Cranton City Hall, an affair that shut down a portion of Park Avenue for most of the day.

The Cranston High School East and West bands combined to play for Culpo, as did BASICS, an elementary music program. Dignitaries like Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Representative James Langevin, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Cranston City Council members attended the ceremony.

Whitehouse called Culpo’s win and homecoming a “meteoric, bright, wonderful occasion.”

In a reception before the public ceremony, Fung presented Culpo with a bouquet of roses, as invited guests, dignitaries and Culpo’s family looked on.

“These [roses] are bigger than the ones I got at Miss USA,” Culpo said with a laugh.

In addition to greeting her adoring fans and supporters, Culpo, in her first visit to Rhode Island since her big win, got to spend time with her family: her parents, Susan and Peter, and siblings Aurora, Peter, Gus and Sophie.

“We’re very, very thrilled,” said her mother, Susan Culpo, a native of Cranston who attended Cranston High School East. “To have her come back … has been a thrill.”

Susan admitted the she was skeptical at first about her daughter’s choice to run for Miss Rhode Island.

“I thought it was silly,” she said. “I realized she was a lovely girl, but I didn’t see what running was going to do.”

But Susan said her daughter learned great lessons in self-discipline, public speaking and poise throughout her pageant preparation.

“I was wrong,” said Susan. “She learned a lot.”

And Culpo didn’t just learn; she won. Susan said seeing her daughter win not only in her home state but also on the national level was astonishing. Since the pageant’s beginnings in 1952, a contestant from Rhode Island has never won the title of Miss USA.

“It was an unbelievable moment,” said Susan. “I was just so proud. The fact that she won was just the icing on the cake.” Peter, Culpo’s father, said the whirlwind of his daughter’s success has been surreal.

“You can’t plan for this,” he said. “It’s an incredible experience. I’m so proud.”

Culpo’s older sister, Aurora, 23, said it’s been fun to see her younger sister in the spotlight.

“She deserves it all,” said Aurora, a blonde who shares her sister’s beauty and poise. Despite their similar characteristics, Aurora said there are no pageants in her future. Instead, Aurora is busy instructing yoga while completing her Master’s degree in childhood education at Roger Williams University. She plans to travel with her sister to New York and to see her compete in the Miss Universe Pageant in December.

Olivia’s younger brother, Gus, was in attendance at Friday’s ceremony at City Hall. Gus, 16, will be a junior next year at Bishop Hendricken High School. He said he’s watched his sister evolve in the past year.

“She’s growing so much, it seems like she’s changing,” he said. “She’s getting so good with people.”

Gus recounted his reaction to seeing his sister win the title of Miss USA back in June.

“I was running up and down the aisles,” he said. “I was so happy.”

After the pomp and circumstance, a crowd of fans cheered Culpo outside of City Hall, where she was presented with a handcrafted, pewter key to the city.

“I know all the city of Cranston is proud today of the accomplishments Olivia has done for all Cranstonians and all Rhode Islanders,” said Mayor Fung. “So we’re definitely proud to be here today in celebration … of her.”

Fung said the history of giving a person a key to the city, the highest honor a non-military civilian can achieve, dates back to Medieval times, when cities were fortified. By giving someone a key to the city, he said, it’s recognition of high honor and trust.

“Your hard work, your dedication, your intelligence, your talent is something we are all proud of and led you to be the first Rhode Island native – the first Cranston native – to win the Miss USA pageant,” said Fung. “The city of Cranston wishes you all the very best as you move onto the Miss Universe competition. We’re very proud of you and hope you will always remember Cranston and always hold it true in your heart wherever your road takes you.”

Culpo, who said she has been looking forward to coming back to Cranston “since the day [she] left for Miss USA,” promised she’ll always remember her Rhode Island roots.

“It means so much to come back here and see the warmhearted welcomes from everyone,” she said. “I know if I was in any other town or any other state, it wouldn’t be quite the same. Even the people from the Miss Universe organization told me they’ve never seen a homecoming quite like this.”

In addition to receiving the key to the city, Cranston also planted a tree in Culpo’s honor in front of City Hall. Culpo, her parents, Mayor Fung and Cranston City Council President Anthony Lupino threw ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt on the tree’s base.

“To be here and be able to share this great accomplishment with all of you is really remarkable,” said Culpo to the crowd gathered Friday afternoon. “I consider myself first representing my hometown and home state, before my title as Miss USA, so no matter where I go or what happens in Miss Universe, I will always be your Cranston hometown girl.”


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