Sarah Sun’s secret desire during the Miss Utah 2023 competition was to share her Latter-day Saint faith on the stage with judges and thousands others watching.
“I was praying for a chance to share my testimony,” she said. “God gave me that opportunity.”
While onstage, Sun was asked, “If you were doing an interview on live television and were asked a question that was simply too personal, how would you respond?”
Sun said that as a student at Cornell University, “a very secular and diverse institution,” she was often asked personal and even inappropriate questions about her membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she seized the moment to share her beliefs. Not only did she make many new friends, she was elected freshman class president in a landslide.
“By being unashamed of who I was and what I believed in, I knew that truth could always prevail and touch the hearts of those who are seeking it,” she said. “I know that the light of Christ allows people to become their best selves, and I will never be ashamed of sharing that with other people.”
Sun was crowned Miss Utah at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday, June 10.
When Sun won, the other contestants swarmed around to hug her and started chanting her name. The audience joined in. She later heard from some fans that it was the most contestant-celebrated scene in decades.
“It was very humbling, a tremendous honor,” she said before thanking everyone involved.
The classically trained pianist was awarded more than $10,000 in scholarships, was voted as Miss Congeniality and will represent Utah at the Miss America Competition.
Sun, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, is also the first woman of color to win Miss Utah.
“For this to come to fruition was a really big deal because I feel the responsibility to honor the sacrifices of my parents, my ancestors and all other immigrants who feel like these dreams are just too far out of reach,” she said. “I know that with God anything is possible, and I’m grateful for the people in my life who have helped me become a living testament of that.”
‘Never thought that I would join’
Sun is the daughter of Xun Sun, the director of orchestral activities at Southern Utah University, and his wife, SUU adjunct professor Ling Sun. Sarah started playing the piano at age 4 and has spent the majority of her life developing her musical talents.
Raised in Cedar City, Utah, Sarah was surrounded by Church members. But the religion she grew up in “was a little bit antagonistic toward the Church.”
“I would go to youth group and people would have these seminars prepared of what your Mormon friends will say to try to convert you. Here’s the Bible verses that you use to protect yourself,” she said. “I never thought that I would join [the Church].”
As Sarah got older, events such as the legalization of same-sex marriage caused her think more deeply about her beliefs, and she started to explore different faiths. Eventually she began meeting with the Latter-day Saint missionaries.
‘God was aware of me’
The turning point in Sarah’s conversion came when she was preparing to perform at Carnegie Hall, a concert venue in New York City.
Her scheduled practice room fell through at the last minute, and she needed to find another place to prepare for her performance. She said a prayer at a subway station, and when she said “Amen” and looked up, she found two sister missionaries standing nearby.
Sun explained her predicament, and the sister missionaries gave her directions to a chapel where she could practice the piano. As she emerged from the subway, she saw the Manhattan New York Temple with The Juilliard School across the street.
“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.
Sun was the first member of her family to join the Church. “It was an opportunity to be a pioneer,” she said.
Mission to California
After joining the Church in 2018, Sun’s experiences of sharing her faith at Cornell prepared her to serve a mission and she was called in 2020 to the California Riverside Mission. With the onset of the pandemic, she wanted to share the gospel with others. She was also instrumental in her parents’ decision to be baptized.
“I knew that representing Christ was something that I was meant to do,” she said. “Even though Cornell and my education was important to me, I knew what was most important to me, and I was willing to put that on pause for a season.”
One of the highlights of Sun’s mission came at the end when she was invited to be the featured speaker at a devotional where hundreds of people attended. She told her conversion story and interspersed various musical numbers that were meaningful to her at each phase of the story.
Sun came away from that experience and her mission with a desire to continue sharing her faith and talents in an effort to bless others.
“That specific experience is what helped me go forward wanting to be Miss Utah because I knew that I could channel this microphone and this platform that I have and shine it on something bigger than myself,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without my mission.”
Continuing education, helping inmates
Sun transferred from Cornell to Brigham Young University, where she is a music major with a minor in political science. She is a member of BYU’s Young Ambassadors and hopes to attend Harvard Law School in the coming years.
Her community service initiative is “Reducing Recidivism Through Art Education,” an effort to make arts education available to inmates at the Utah State Prison. She became interested in that initiative through a friend at Cornell whose father was in and out of prison, and it had a rough impact on his family.
“I want to bring music into the prison, whether it’s through classes, workshops or performances, to remind people of our shared humanity,” she said. “That’s something that has always been important to me.”
Daughter of God
Reflecting on her journey, Sun is grateful for her knowledge of the gospel and that she is a “daughter of God.”
“I know how much it has blessed me and therefore want to share it with anybody who is looking for that same light,” she said. “I feel a responsibility to represent Him at all times, in all things and in all places.”
Looking forward, Sun is excited to serve in any capacity and wants to focus on helping “the one.”
“I think any room I walk into has somebody who is waiting for me,” she said. “I really think that the impact of Miss Utah isn’t that she is wearing a crown and a sash, but that she can see people deeply, and that can change the trajectory of their lives.”