As students and guests filled the Center Ballroom of the Shalala Student Center Tuesday evening, they were faced with a royal setting. Deep-red and navy drapes hugged the illuminated stage where Miss University of Miami 2016 was crowned just hours later. The annual pageant continues a university tradition that dates back to 1949.
Miss University of Miami is an official preliminary to the Miss Florida and Miss America pageants. The event, as 2016 Chair Kayla Derby explained, is about showcasing inner beauty.
“It’s not about who looks the best in their swimsuit. It’s about who is the most confident, so those are the types of things the judges are looking for,” Derby said. “One of the things that I want students to understand is that beauty can radiate from the inside … Hopefully it will inspire some of the attendees to be able to push themselves in ways that they didn’t imagine either.”
Each year, the contestants are judged according to five categories that hold different weight. The categories are lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit, evening wear, talent, and the two most important categories, a private interview and on-stage questions.
Besides the title, the winner also receives a $500 scholarship and the opportunity to work closely with a charity or cause of her choice.
This year, six contestants took the stage alongside the 2015 Miss University of Miami, senior Ashlhea Louis, to showcase their talents and passions in front of friends, family and spectators.
“For me, Miss UM is someone who shows confidence but is relatable and humble [and also represents] the UM community not only on a state level, but also on the national level,” said senior O’Shane Elliott, co-chair of the pageant. “The array of girls, their talents, their causes are always going to be different and something they hold dear to their hearts, and I think that’s just the most important part of why they aspire to be Miss UM.”
After seeing what all the contestants had to offer, the judges named junior Chinonyelum “Chi-Chi” Maduka Miss University of Miami 2016. Now that she has won the crown, Maduka is beginning to reach out to organizations with her chosen platform: educating first-generation students.
“First-generation students are an interesting population,” Maduka said. “You have students whose parents are well-educated in other countries, but it’s not recognized in this country, or their parents can’t really help them with the process. So it’s very diverse and it’s very important for us to help them because going to college is an honor.”
Service to the community has always been a very important aspect of the competition, which is why the pageant has supported the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and local Nicklaus Children’s Hospital through the years. Donations were encouraged throughout the evening, but Derby said that there are many other ways to give back.
“They offer tours to any student that wants to see the work that they do with children and it’s truly inspiring,” Derby said. “We raised money tonight, but they accept donations throughout the year.”
For the reigning Miss University of Miami, being a part of the pageant has been a rewarding experience. After months of preparation, Maduka will now be able to work on a variety of projects and represent the university under a bigger spotlight.
“I feel very humbled, very honored to be crowned Miss UM. I’ve learned a lot and I’m very excited,” Maduka said. “For me, the most important thing is working on my platform and really using this crown to voice my opinion and make an impact.”
Despite naming a winner, Derby explained that at the end of the day, the most gratifying part of working for the pageant is seeing people make connections and friendships that will last a lifetime.
“Being able to bring a group of girls together who probably would have never been friends and watch them interact on the last night of rehearsal was very rewarding,” Derby said. “They are a great group of girls and it makes this experience very exciting.”
Applications for the 2017 Miss University of Miami planning committee will be released in the fall semester. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction, March 31: This article originally stated that Chinonyelum “Chi-Chi” Maduka is a senior, which is incorrect. Maduka is a junior.