After patiently waiting four years for her chance to represent UCF, senior Ivory Paulk cried tears of joy while being crowned Miss UCF 2016.
“I’ve always wanted to be Miss UCF. I’ve been talking about competing in this pageant since I was a freshman. I’m a senior now, and I never got the chance to do it,” Paulk said. “I remember last year I wanted to do it, and I didn’t see any advertisement for it. This year I was vigilant; I looked as much as I could for flyers, and I just did it.”
Paulk competed against nine other girls in different categories including private interviews, on-stage questions, lifestyle and fitness, talent, and evening wear. Each category added up to 100 points for the opportunity to not only represent UCF but also be awarded a scholarship.
Paulk encountered many sleepless nights to prepare for the competition as she juggled being a biotech major, a former SGA senator, the president of the Society of Advancement for Minorities in sciences, a McNair Scholar and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
“I worked hard. Honestly, I sacrificed a lot of sleep, a lot of time. I’ve been practicing my talent for as long as we’ve been having Miss UCF practice, which started last semester,” Paulk said. “With practices, I don’t get home until late; sometimes not until the morning because I’m running such long days.”
For her talent, she entertained the audience with something a little bit more unique than just the usual dance routine. She astonished the judges and the audience with an African dance performance. She chose the routine to express where she came from.
“It’s everything that I am. It’s my culture. It’s my history. By me going on that stage and paying homage to my ancestors, it’s the best thing I could ever do,” Paulk said. “They brought me here. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.”
Paulk didn’t do it alone. The support of her family, friends and coaches helped her to get to this moment.
“I have an amazing pageant coach and an amazing dance instructor from the Inez Patricia dance school. She’s a family friend. And my pageant coach, Desiree Roberts, she’s taught me my walk and everything,” Paulk said. “I knew this was serious for me, so I went and got professionals to help me. This isn’t something that I did, but I had a vision and I went to them.”
Jere James, the owner and artistic director of Inez Patricia School of Dance, has been giving Paulk dance training twice a week since November in preparation for the pageant and is excited and proud to hear Paulk won, especially considering Paulk did not have any prior formal dance training.
“In the course of just three months, she transformed into a beautiful performer,” James said.
James believes Paulk’s hard and determination is contributed to her win because “she was very focused and driven.”
Paulk's platform is to help younger generations of minorities to learn about science and teach them that even though it’s low in diversity right now, it doesn't have to be.
“I went to my Vanderbilt University interview for the Cancer Biology Ph.D. program and there were 39 applicants there," Paulk explained. "During the interview weekend, there were only two black people and two Latin American people. I feel like we’ve come so far as a country, but we have so much more to go. That’s my goal.”
She loves the fact that UCF has given her so many opportunities, and she can’t wait to be a role model and touch the lives of others through her new title.
“I’m ready to serve. I’m ready to show people what it means to be a diverse scientist and help kids to learn that they can do it too,” Paulk added.
After a long semester of late night practices, meetings, and, of course, classes, Paulk had a feeling while waiting for the results on stage that all of her hard work would pay off.
“At the beginning, I didn’t even think I was going to win. I was just doing it because I wanted the opportunity to maybe one day be able to represent my university,” Paulk said. “This was all totally worth it.”
Desiree Roberts works with Center Stage Elite Pageant Coaching and is not affiliated with the Inez Patricia school of dance.
Christina Aguis is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.
Editor's Note: This article previously stated that Ivory Paulk is an SGA senator and a recipient of the Merrit scholarship. It has since been corrected.