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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

“Be the Light” UF Homecoming Leadership Pageant Goes Virtual

Picture of a pageant contestant pointing a foam finger

Robert Shulte points a foam finger with the words “save the bees” at the Homecoming Leadership Pageant. The pageant will air today at 7 p.m. (Photographer: Julia Quinn)

UF students, faculty and alumni will fill the digital seats of the Homecoming Leadership Pageant this year.

The event will take place virtually from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Homecoming Leadership Pageant will be available on the Gator Growl website and social media pages, like Instagram and Facebook.The homecoming court will be announced at the end of the video.  

In 2019, tickets cost $12 in advance, and $15 at the door, but this year no tickets are needed. Anyone can tune in to watch for free.

Gator Growl, a tradition that has existed for almost a century, introduced the homecoming pageant more than 70 years ago, in part by Florida Blue Key. This year’s theme is “Be the Light,” defining UF’s bright future crafted by its student leaders. 

The show was filmed on Sept. 21 and required contestants to bring their UF ID to ensure they were COVID-19 negative, said Carson Goodman, the associate general chairwoman of campus events for Gator Growl. 

The contestants are judged based on a Zoom interview and resume first, followed by a game-day spirit round, a business attire round and a final question, said Goodman, a 20-year-old UF accounting junior.

The panel of judges is made up of UF Student Body President Trevor Pope and four advisers within the Student Activities and Involvement department and the Career Connection Center.  

For the past three years the pageant added a “leadership twist," focusing on contestants who are goal-oriented within their academic, philanthropic and leadership endeavors, Goodman said. 

The homecoming pageant’s name was changed to the Homecoming Leadership Pageant to better reflect the organization’s morals, said Logan Piper, the homecoming general chairman. 

“Homecoming has always been about fostering leadership,” he said. “We really wanted to adapt it to showcase this further.”

Picture of pageant contestant doing the gator chomp

Quinn Connor smiles while doing the gator chomp at the Homecoming Leadership Pageant on Sept. 21. (Photographer: Julia Quinn)

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The first pageant performance normally reserved for a choreographed dance, was replaced with individual catchphrases.

In the next round, contestants dressed in their game day colors of orange-and-blue and expressed their love for the Gator Nation, as the gameday marching band song blared in the background. 

Hailey DeRigo, a UF 21-year-old health education and behavior senior, wore an orange-and-blue jersey top and a scrunchy with miniature alligators on her wrist. Her prop was an orange-and-blue umbrella, to symbolize “Rainesville.” Overall, she said she was honored to participate in the pageant. 

“I'm not so concerned about winning,” she said. “I'm more excited to see everybody else shine.”

Each contestant was required to wear a face mask on and off stage, except for when answering questions, she said.

Lauren Adler, the 2019 homecoming general chair, co-hosted the event and said the excitement and energy was not lost on stage.

Student Body Vice President Lauredan Official waddled around the stage in an alligator costume, Adler, a 22-year-old UF accounting master’s student, said.

“It was incredible, and I swear some of the Gator spirit portions were hilarious,” she said.

Photo of pageant contestant holding a Gators flag

Keely Knudson holds up a UF Gator Flag during the Homecoming Leadership Pageant. (Photographer: Julia Quinn)

In the next round, contestants zipped into professional attire and answered a question on their core values and career goals.

Janelle Rolle, a 21-year-old UF international studies senior, joined the pageant this year after social unrest surrounding the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. She also said she felt there was a lack of Black representation in the pageant. 

Her cousin was the last Black woman to be crowned homecoming queen in 2012. As Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. president and a Rec Sports board of directors member, she hopes to set the example for young, Black girls.

“When you think of an involved person on campus, I feel like the first person that you think of isn't going to be a Black woman,” she said. “I wanted to be able to show up and represent my community and give us a shot at the crown.”

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