As students, faculty and Gator fans gather in a darkening field for Gator Growl, the buzz of voices quiets as the announcer once again crowns the Homecoming king and queen.
Yet, out of the more than 50,000 students at the university, few know how these royals are selected.
Sydney Brandenburg wanted to change that.
Brandenburg, who is a 21-year old marketing senior and director of the UF Homecoming Pageant, said she decided to take on the position to make people more aware of the pageants mission to showcase the best leaders on campus.
“A lot of students don’t know what we are, which is the difficult part of my job because I know the organization so well and I’m so passionate about it,” Brandenburg said. “Even though it’s a leadership pageant, they hear the word and their brain goes to pageant.”
This year, the nominees for Homecoming queen are: Sarah Abraham, the Student Body vice president; Emily Dunson, the Gator Party leader and Senate president pro-tempore and Samantha Singer, the Footprints: Buddy and Support Program president, Brandenburg said.
The potential kings are Graham Boone, who works for the UF Investment Corp., Evan Curry, a UF CARE student affiliate, and Dylan Santalo, a member of Florida Blue Key, she said. The winner will be officially crowned at Gator Growl, Brandenburg said.
Planning for the pageant starts eight months in advance when all of the Homecoming chairs get selected, Brandenburg said. Applications to be entered into the pageant opened the first day of the Fall semester, but when it opens varies every year depending on when the Homecoming game is scheduled.
Forty contestants are selected by Brandenburg and her team. This year, they competed in the Sept. 23 pageant. The event consisted of an opening number, a Gator spirit round, a business dress round and an on-stage question round for the semi-finalists. The event was judged by a panel of UF faculty members, Brandenburg said.
Brandenburg said she tried to overcome the negative stereotypes associated with pageants by removing the formal wear round this year and replacing it with business attire. She also collaborated with the Career Connections Center to give advice on what to look for an ideal king or queen.
This year, Brandenburg said selecting thoughtful student leaders on campus was her top priority.
“It’s not about who has the most leadership positions, it’s about whether their impact on campus can be really felt,” she said.
Out of the 40 contestants, the judges pick six to be on the Homecoming court based on an interview prior to the pageant, resumes and their performance at the pageant itself, Brandenburg said. From the court, the panel then select the king and queen based on who is the top-scoring male and female after the pageant.
This year’s contestants were barred from speaking to any media.
Students cannot vote for the queen or king but can come support the contestants at the pageant, Brandenburg said.
The winners are crowned at Gator Growl in order to make it a more special experience for the contestants, students and alumni, Brandenburg said. The king and queen get to make an appearance at the Homecoming game the following day.
“I want this to be something that when you’re a freshman, you say, ‘I really I wish I could be like the Homecoming queen,’” Brandenburg said. “Every single [contestant] has done something that I cannot even comprehend. I think that we need a time and a place to showcase them and highlight them.”
Lauren Adler, a 21-year-old accounting senior and Homecoming general chairwoman, oversees all the Homecoming events, including the pageant, Homecoming festival, parade, Gator Gala, philanthropy events and alumni outreach initiatives.
Adler was the only student judge at the pageant. She said scoring all of the contestants was hard because everyone was high-achieving and involved on campus, but feels confident in her decisions.
“Every single person that was in that pageant ended up being a really strong leader,” Adler said.
She said the Homecoming Pageant is vital to UF culture because it’s important that students have a whole event to focus on leadership on campus. This is one of the only opportunities for these students to be recognized for all their hard work, she said.
“It’s not a popularity contest. It’s nothing of the sort,”Adler said. “ It’s just about who really did make the university a better place and who really is passionate and confident in themselves.”