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Pageant Life: Get to Know Some of the Miss UF Contestants

Cecelia Hardwick
 

This 21-year-old junior political science major with a double minor in English and public service minor hopes to one day attend law school. This will be her first time competing in a pageant.
 
She got involved in Miss UF because the girl who won Miss UF two years ago was in her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, and was a role model for Cecelia.
 
“After seeing her do it, I knew I wanted to do it too,” she said.
 
The part that makes her the most nervous is the on-stage question. In the national Miss America contest, contestants can be asked a question on just about anything, but for Miss UF the questions will center around each contestant’s platform. Cecelia’s platform is promoting civic engagement, such as motivating young people to volunteer, vote and support campaigns.
 
Cecelia said that if she won Miss UF, she would be able to broaden her work and expand to reach out to kids starting when they are in middle school.
 
“Florida is particularly ranked low for young people voting,” she said. “We are at the bottom of the totem pole as far as voting. We’re getting volunteering started from the bottom up.”
 
Performing on stage in the Phillips Center shouldn’t be a problem for this former high school singer. For the talent portion of the pageant, Cecelia will be singing a classical Italian song. She started singing in elementary school and middle school with different choirs she was in. Then in high school, she took serious voice lessons and participated in some Broadway-style performances.
 
Growing up a Gator, her favorite event that she has helped out with during her time at UF has been Gator Growl; she was director of ticket sales in fall 2010. Cecelia has also been a member of the Freshman Leadership Council and a student government senator. Her time spent as a senator is what inspired her to change her major from English to political science.
 
When she’s not busy with school or one of her organizations, Cecelia likes to read or spend time working at her internship with the University Press of Florida.
 
“I was talking to a professor who was trying to dissuade me from going to law school,” she said. “She told me to apply for this internship, so I did and I got it.”
 
Over the summer, she plans to intern in Washington D.C.
Cecelia’s involvement in so many diverse organizations has given her an opportunity to meet all sorts of people.
 
“Each organization has a different group of people,” she said. “I enjoy spending time with different people and meeting new people.”
 
Cecelia said if she doesn’t win, she knows it will still be an awesome experience. But the possibility of winning and going on to Miss Florida is definitely still something Cecelia is thinking about. 
 
“It would be awesome to represent UF and make things happen,” she said.
 
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Mara Abeleda
 

A first-time pageant contestant, Mara was inspired to get involved thanks to her cousin – the current Miss Florida. The 22-year-old senior plans to graduate in May with a degree in finance.
 
Mara said was never interested in pageants, but she watched her cousin compete in pageants for 10 years. After seeing her cousin, Kristina Janolo, compete in the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas, Mara wondered if it might be something worth trying.
 
“When I saw how much she got out of it, it inspired me to want to try it,” she said. “If you really want something, you can get it.”
 
The scholarship money is also a huge draw for this soon-to-be grad; she hopes to get her Master’s in business administration, but first she would like to work for two years. While she initially wanted to work on Wall Street, Mara said she realized her personality didn’t really fit for that type of job. She now wants to eventually start a non-profit.
 
Mara said her dream job would be to serve as an executive for Disney, a company she has always wanted to work with. She actually applied to be a character at Disney World and got chosen to be one but couldn’t because of school.

 
“I got Mulan, which was really cool,” she said. “But I’d like to maybe get one that’s more princess-like, like Belle.”
 
For now, Mara is looking forward to the experience of going through the pageant and continuing to make new friendships with the other contestants.
 
Her platform is mentoring kids to motivate them to do well in school and show them how important that is, she said. Her interest in mentoring kids started when she was a member of Project Makeover. She mentors a seventh grade girl at Westwood Middle School named Olivia.
 
“We meet once a week at school,” she said. “We mostly talk about how her week went and a little bit of her middle school drama.”
 
Olivia’s goal when Mara started mentoring her was to make new friends and not be a part of drama as much. Mara said she definitely has met that goal. Olivia used to get sent to the dean’s office all the time, and now, she rarely does, Mara said.
 
“It’s been so inspiring for me to watch her,” Mara said. “It takes a lot of courage in Olivia to know to do well.”
 
Mara loves musical theater and was involved in it in high school and even a bit in college. She did some acting at the Gainesville Community Theater. Her talent for Miss UF will be singing a Broadway-style song. She thinks the talent portion will be her favorite part of the pageant, she said.
 
“I love being in shows so having that opportunity has been great,” Mara said.
 
She’s a member of Kappa Alpha Theta and a Florida Cicerone. As a Cicerone, she gets to help pre-recruit for the basketball and football team, which she really enjoys, she said.
 
Mara’s hometown is Kissimmee. Her whole family lives there, and they’re all neighbors. She said she comes from a large Filipino family. She has two brothers; one is senior in high school and just found out that he’s going to be a Gator next year, and the other is a junior at University of South Florida.
 
In the final days before the competition, Mara said the part that has her the most nervous is the swimsuit portion. She said it’s so different being in a swimsuit on stage and in heels rather than at the beach or at a pool.
 
“The first time I put on my swimsuit I wanted to quit,” she said. But she overcame her fear and is now ready and excited for the pageant.
 
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Amelia Butler
 

A 19-year-old public relations sophomore from Jacksonville, Amelia decided to participate in Miss UF because she loved the opportunities it gives contestants to support a platform and raise awareness for a cause.
 
Amelia’s platform is Children’s Miracle Network. She chose Children’s Miracle Network because she had supported them in other pageants she did.
 
A pageant girl since high school, she says pageants gave her the chance to represent her school and put herself on the line. She also loves pageants because of the many skills they can teach participants – especially the interview portion.
 
 
She also really likes all the new people you get to meet, including the judges. They are inspiring women who work as authors, professors and even single moms, who she hopes to be like.
 
On campus, Amelia is very involved in Lady Gators are R.A.D. The organization gives students a way to communicate directly with police officers about safety concerns. She hopes to start a “woman of the month” through the program.
 
“A woman of the month program will bring out the strengths in women,” she said.
 
Amelia was also very involved in The Odyssey and is a member of the Delta Zeta sorority chapter. She is also involved in student government, Dance Marathon, Florida Blue Key and is a member of the psychology debate team.
 
Amelia said she likes getting to meet girls she wouldn’t otherwise meet in the pageant. Miss UF brings strong women together, she said.
 
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Alana Morrell
 
A 20-year-old junior sociology major, Alana is trying out pageant life for the first time to prove that she can do anything she puts her mind to.
 
“Being a black student, people count you out,” she said. “I wanted to try something new and go outside of my comfort zone.”
 
Her platform for Miss UF is to end human trafficking.
 
She hopes to attend medical school in the future, but for now she doesn’t mind being labeled an Internet junkie. She spends her free time as a fashion blogger and writer for The Odyssey. She’s also the assistant editor for the Iliad, the online website for The Odyssey.
 
She’s a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the programmer for Black History month and just got involved with Free the Slaves. She’s also a part of S.T.A.A.R., a branch under student government for students against racism. S.T.A.A.R. works to promote unity and diversity among students.
 
She said she’s most nervous about the talent part of the competition. She plans on singing a pop song for her talent, but she’s not exactly sure what song yet.
 
“If I do a great job, then that will be the best moment of the pageant,” she said.
 
She’s excited about going out of her comfort zone to do the pageant.
 
“I hope being a part of Miss UF will help me get over stage fright and make an impact,” she said.
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Ashlyn Robinson
 
Ashlyn has been participating in pageants since she was a little girl and is very excited about the possibility of representing her school. She’s a 19-year-old history and telecommunications sophomore.
 
I started doing pageants when I was younger,” she said. “I’m from Plant City, and I competed in the teen level of the Miss America organization. This is my first year doing Miss UF, but I knew I wanted to do it.”
 
So far, she’s competed in about 10 pageants. While all her pageant experience will help her to know what to expect come competition time, she said she also feels more pressure to perform at a higher level. “I’m stereotyped as a pageant girl,” she said.
 
Ashlyn loves that pageants teach poise, elegance and confidence. It’s really like a job, she said. You’re involved in your school and the community and you get to represent a cause you really care about.
 
Out of the many pageants Ashlyn has already competed in, her favorite was the Strawberry Queen Court.
“I loved it,” she said. “I was at the Strawberry Festival for 11 days straight. You get to meet all the celebrities there. I met Josh Turner in 2010. I also enjoyed Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen. It’s a week of competing, and you make friendships with all the girls.”
 
Besides pageant life, Ashlyn is also a member of Zeta Tau Alpha, part of the Baptist Collegiate Ministries and a member of the Board of College Councils, a board that provides funding for schools to bring in speakers or host an event.
 
In her free time, she enjoys reading, going to the beach, cooking and baking. Her dream career is to go to law school and eventually own her own firm or be a judge. Law has really sparked her interest and she will be interning with a judge over summer.
 
Ashlyn is looking forward to the event and knows each pageant is a fun and unique experience.
 
“With pageants in general, you take away a sense of accomplishment no matter how it turns out,” she said. “For Miss UF specifically, I hope to take out a better sense of UF and inspire more girls do it next year.”

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