This year four Ball State students have been awarded the title of Indianapolis 500 Festival Princess.
After meeting all the criteria to apply and two rounds of interviews, Esther Bower, Amanda Hawkins, Emma Schaefer and Taylor Wong were all awarded the title of festival princess.
To apply, the applicants must meet several standards such as a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher, be active in “worthwhile” school and community organizations and be a legal resident of Indiana.
This year over 200 women applied to be interviewed. The applications were carefully reviewed and after two five minute interviews, each with different panels of developed professionals from all over Indiana, only 66 advance to the second round.
Those asked to return are interviewed by people who are more closely involved with the 500 Festival to further ensure that each princess is someone who properly represents the festival, her hometown and her college.
After the second round, 33 princesses are chosen and receive a $1,000 scholarship. They attend personal and professional development sessions held by sponsors of the festival and also are required to make appearances at several events, volunteer in their communities with outreach programs.
Based off her volunteering and communication, among other things, a princess is selected to receive the title of 500 Festival Queen.
While neither Bower, Hawkins, Schaefer, or Wong received the title of festival queen, which was won by IUPUI senior Shivani Bajpai, they all felt honored to be festival princesses.
Junior Esther Bower knows the importance of being a positive role model and when she heard about this opportunity she was more than ready to “get in on the fun.”
“I literally jumped with joy when I read the email I had been selected," Bower said. "I knew it was going to be a great year but had no idea how wonderful the whole experience would be.”
The journalism and telecommunications major is heavily involved in her community, from her devotion to dance to her participation in pageants like Miss Indiana. She is also very involved on campus in organizations such as NewsLink Indiana.
Bower said she has enjoyed all aspects of being a festival princess and considers it an honor to be involved in all of the great opportunities that the program offers.
“My favorite part has been the outlet to serve," Bower said. "It has been amazing to get to see Muncie, beyond Ball State and really get to know our community. I have always been passionate about serving, but this program made me love it that much more.”
This experience, in fact, has inspired her to pursue something that was just an idea of hers. Bower recently began a weekly outreach program at the Boys and Girls Club that incorporates her passion for dance and for helping others.
“Every event I have attended, put on, and been a part of has taught me something new and made me more proud to be a part of this program,” she said.
Meeting all of the other princesses has been a special experience for Bower as well. She is excited to spend this weekend with the girls and hopes to continue their friendship even after the program comes to a close.
“It has been such a great experience," Bower said. "Not only have I gained valuable professional development experience, scholarship money for school, but I have gained 32 others sisters from around the state that are as committed to service and making a difference as I am."
Amanda Hawkins recently graduated from Ball State with a degree in elementary education, according to The Current, a newspaper publication in her hometown of Noblesville.
Although she was unavailable for an interview, Hawkins commented on social media and in the Current about how grateful she was to receive the title of 500 Festival Princess.
Hawkins and the other Princesses will be attending several events this weekend including the 500 Festival memorial Service, festival parade, the KeyBank 500 Festival Snakepit Ball and the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
While some might find interviews intimidating, senior telecommunications major Emma Schaefer was very comfortable during the festival princess selection process.
“A lot of people get nervous but I get an adrenaline rush,” Schaefer said. “I love talking about myself in a way, but I also just love getting that feeling of getting to know someone in such a short time. I feel like that’s what interviews are, just getting to know someone as well as you can.”
Schaefer grew up in Fort Wayne where she participated in 4H and pageants. It was her former pageant director, along with a friend from Ball State, who encouraged her to finally apply to become a 500 Princess.
Schaefer has been part of all different types of on campus groups at Ball State such as the Pi Sigma Epsilon Business Fraternity and Cardinal Sports Live. She is currently the vice president of marketing for Pi Sigma Epsilon, works for the dean of College of Communication, Information, and Media, Cardinal Core and volunteers as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.
While it feels different to experience events and work for her community with a tiara and a sash on, Schaefer is very passionate.
“A lot of the times we do show up all princess-like, but there has been times where we are dressed just like regular people,” Schaefer said. “Going to events you feel special, but you also feel so involved and so connected because it seems like so many people know about the princesses and know the tradition behind it. It's just a really cool feeling connecting with everyone at all these events.”
This weekend will be “bittersweet” for Schaefer as she attends her first Indianapolis 500 but also realizes that this will likely be the last time she is together with the other princesses as a group.
After three years of submitting applications, senior Taylor Wong finally achieved her dream of being a 500 Festival Princess.
“I honestly cried," Wong said. "This has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl and I wasn’t sure it was something I was capable of doing.”
Wong is an athletic training and studio art drawing major from the south-side of Indianapolis. She is involved with Dance Marathon, Chinese Club and Athletic Training Club and has really enjoyed the opportunity to give back to her community even more, even though it keeps her busy.
“The best part is easily the amount of time we spend serving others,” Wong said. “Serving others has taught me so much about myself and who I am and the positive impact that we all can make on our community.”
This experience has done a lot for her self-esteem as well. Throughout the interviewing process she was intimidated and scared, but the help of the professionals and other princesses made her feel more comfortable.
“Before the program, I wasn’t confident in myself or who I was and these girls have truly guided me to becoming a confident individual," Wong said. "I have been blessed through this program with 32 new friends and sisters. They have really been the best part of this entire program.”
Being a festival princess is just as exciting as she had hoped and she loves the reaction she gets from little kids who ask for her autograph and get excited to meet a “real princess.” She knows, however, that her role as princess is more than attending events and waving.
“As princesses and queens of the 500 Festival and Indianapolis, we all focus on service and giving back to others," she said. "We ultimately have the same drive and determination for the community.”