Homecoming will soon be here, and while most students are already planning to make a splash in the Reflecting Pond to celebrate, others will be suiting up in homecoming court sashes hoping to be crowned this year's king and queen.
But what exactly does it mean to be on UCF homecoming court?
Homecoming court, although a smaller-scale activity in comparison to events like Concert Knight and Spirit Splash, still incorporates a significant amount of student involvement and dependence on the student body and campus activities.
Candidates are generally those students who are involved in multiple facets of campus life and who yearn to be the face of UCF's homecoming, not only for the current year but for the next year's homecoming festivities, as well. Being UCF royalty endows each homecoming king and queen with the honorable title, which sets them apart on campus by publicly recognizing them for their university involvement and impact on the UCF community.
The process of getting your name on the ballot for homecoming court starts with a few basic requirements, which include having a GPA of 3.0 or higher and being of junior, senior or graduate student standing. From there, the application process begins, said Brittany Vasile, royalty director for UCF's homecoming this year. Typically, more women than men apply for the court, she said.
"[They have to] fill out personal information, [and] they have to be nominated by an organization or group on campus," Vasile said. "Then they answer four essay questions and submit their application online, as well as a résumé. From there, the actual homecoming board goes in and scores all of those applications, and the top 60 percent get an interview."
The homecoming board is made up of students — usually around 14 total — who are each in charge of a different homecoming-week event, and each member grades the applications.
Once they narrow applications down and get to the interview process, Vasile selects homecoming-court judges, who can be anyone from alumni representatives and professors to well-known students and advisers. From there, names are put on the ballot and it's up to the student body to vote for that year's king and queen.
It's easy to confuse homecoming court with the Mr. and Miss UCF competition, but Vasile said there are a couple of distinctions between the two, one being that the latter happens in the spring.
"They [Mr. and Miss UCF contestants] have a philanthropy or platform, [the competition is] very community-based and [they] do a lot of out-of-Orlando kind of stuff," she said. "Once homecoming kings and queens are crowned, they don't really go around and do many appearances. They represent homecoming all week, and the next year they're basically the face of that homecoming week. They'll be at Spirit Splash and will crown the next king and queen."
But the responsibility of returning to UCF to crown the next homecoming king and queen isn't the only role that kings and queens of the past play in the festivities. Ashley Jaramillo, UCF's 2012 homecoming queen, sees her title as another way to pour into the university.
"As far as I viewed it, it was continuing to represent UCF and embodying the creed through my work. I was invested on campus. My love for UCF is kind of a natural thing," said Jaramillo, who graduated in May 2013 with a degree in interpersonal and organizational communications.
And while it's common for people to stereotype homecoming court as a popularity contest, it's more so centered on involvement in prominent aspects of campus life.
Past kings and queens have cited involvement in all of the following and more: sorority and fraternity life, President's Leadership Council, Orientation Team, Pegasus Palooza, Knight-Thon, the Multicultural Student Center, Lead Scholars and Student Government Association, among others.
"Find organizations and causes that make you feel a part of something meaningful and do not hesitate in becoming present within them, even if it means being vulnerable and putting your heart out there," said Katie Waser, UCF's 2013 homecoming queen, in an email.
Michael Irene, UCF's 2012 homecoming king, is now living in Fort Lauderdale and working for an IT company in sales, along with keeping his entrepreneurial spirits on the side by owning a small business, Solefest, with some of his UCF peers. He said that it's important to remember that helping others on campus, whether large or small organizations, is the key to making the most of the UCF experience.
"I try to show that you don't have to be a big shot … You don't have to follow the peer pressures of the crowd," said Irene, who graduated in May 2013 with a degree in business management. "I wanted to be involved and contribute to the school as much as it's given to me … You can't join a club just to put it on your résumé or be part of an event because it looks good on paper, because your heart needs to be in it."
Jaramillo is now in graduate school at the University of South Carolina pursuing her master's degree in education.
For her, being involved on campus was her way of giving back, and earning the title of homecoming queen was an honor that resulted from doing what she loved.
"I kept chasing after the things I really loved and wanted to be a part of. That's how I fell in love with making the UCF experience awesome for everyone, and it's led to why I'm studying university administration and student development," Jaramillo said.
This year, 2013 homecoming king and queen Joseph Romo and Katie Waser will return to UCF to pass on the crown, and both expressed their excitement to pay a visit to the place that built them.
Romo, who graduated in May with a degree in psychology, is currently in the Teach for America program in Chicago and simultaneously getting his master's degree in education.
"[Being king], to me, was the greatest honor. I remember my freshman year at UCF seeing Adam Brock and Michelle Messina winning the crown and being amazed at how well they embody the creed and represent UCF," Romo said in an email. "I just wanted to live up to that and make the most of my time at UCF. There are so many opportunities for students and being able to take part in those and represent my university was just an amazing opportunity."
Waser, who graduated this past summer with a degree in child development, echoed Romo's sentiments, adding that the honor was so overwhelming that she couldn't remember anything that happened on the football field due to the adrenaline rush winning the title gave her.
"I felt humbled, to put it simply. I was overwhelmed with the realization of how blessed I am for my college experience … I could not have spent those four years anywhere better for me," said Waser, who is currently working on her master's degree at the University of Georgia to become a child life specialist. "I have so much love for this university and all the wonderful and fulfilling experiences it has brought me, and I could not be more proud to represent UCF in this small way."
And while the title of homecoming king or queen lasts for a year, the advice offered and legacies left behind by each pair are what makes the tradition of homecoming court memorable and beneficial to the UCF community.
"I hope that my legacy is one of meaning and truly stepping out on faith to test yourself and devoting your whole heart to the where you are in the present," Romo said.
For Jaramillo, it was important to remember that every person and every part of university life matters, because they all work together to create one unified student body.
"No matter where you fall in line in terms of your role at the university, it matters," Jaramillo said. "I got to know everyone, from the people who made sure the Student Union was nice and clean to getting to know President Hitt. Everyone matters and plays an important role to make UCF wonderful."
Related: UCF homecoming week event schedule
Related: UCF's Homecoming Candidates for 2014