Crystal Lee, Miss America Runner-Up, a Stanford Grad, Techie

By Lisa Fernandez
|  Tuesday, Sep 17, 2013  |  Updated 11:02 AM PDT
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A Stanford graduate, techie and a onetime broadcast TV wannabe won second place in Sunday's Miss America pageant. Jean Elle reports.

A Stanford graduate, techie and a onetime broadcast TV wannabe won second place in Sunday's Miss America pageant. Jean Elle reports.

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A Stanford graduate, techie and a onetime broadcast TV wannabe won second place in Sunday's Miss America pageant, urging people to back her on social media: "Tweet me, like me, text me! Streaming to you from Silicon Valley, I'm Crystal Lee, Miss California."

And she also used her newfound status to chastise those who hurled bigoted comments at the Miss America winner because of her heritage.

"People should be ashamed of themselves," Lee told NBC Bay Area on Monday by phone on her way back to San Francisco International Airport. "But I think it's also pretty progressive that those ignorant people are being shamed in the media."

The 22-year-old San Francisco native finished second only to Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, who became the first Miss America winner of Indian-American descent. While many cheered Davuluri's Bollywood dance during the talent routine, others took to Twitter to lob racist, and often mistaken, comments about her ethnicity and religious makeup. Some erroneously called her an Arab and made 9/11 terrorist references.

Lee appeared onstage only to congratulate the winner. Dressed in a long light purple gown at the pageant ceremony in Atlantic City, N.J., Lee was captured in several photographs with Davuluri, hugging her and clasping her hands with a big, open smile on her face.

MORE: Miss New York Crowned Miss America

As for her own second place win, Lee said: "I'm really excited. I'm not quite over it."

Lee is now living in Fullerton, Calif., but she's soon hoping to return to her native place of birth, San Francisco, where she grew up with younger sister, Jasmine, and graduated from Rush Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts High School. In June, she earned two degrees from Stanford: a bachelor's in human biology and master's in communication. She was previously named Miss San Francisco 2011, Miss South Counties in 2012 - where she represented the Santa Monica area - and Miss Silicon Valley, the title she held when she became Miss California in June.

Her platform issue for the Miss America competition was women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, and she has been very public about her passion for science and technology. Last year, Lee got involved with a startup, called Nanoly, a nanotechnology company working on a way to transport and deliver vaccine without refrigeration. She was introduced to the startup by Miss Oakland 2011, who was the company's lead researcher.

Lee worked as an intern at both Dropbox and on KRON TV's assignment desk. For a time, she said, she thought she wanted to work in broadcast news until she decided to follow a more high-tech career path.

"I'd love to start my own company," Lee told NBC Bay Area. "I'd like to continue working in Silicon Valley. The Bay Area is home to talent and innovation, and I want to tap into that entrepreneurial spirit."

MORE: Silicon Valley Celebrates Indian Miss America

Among her competition was another Crystal Lee, Miss Hawaii.

Other top five finalists included Miss Minnesota, Rebecca Yeh; Miss Florida, Myrrhanda Jones, and Miss Oklahoma, Kelsey Griswold. The pageant had pitted 53 contestants — one from each state, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — in swimsuit, evening gown, talent and interview competitions.

The pageant started in Atlantic City in 1921 as a way to extend the summer tourism season for an extra weekend.

ABOVE: Photograph posted Monday night to Miss California's official Instagram feed shows Crystal Lee being interviewed by NBC Bay Area's Jean Elle. "Giddy to be back home after placing 1RU at the biggest competition of my life! NBC Bay Area and KTSF 26 came to baggage claim to interview me right off the plane. Adrenaline from last night is still in my system"

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