Most shoppers enter a mall to window shop, try on clothing or purchase items. UCF alumna Kailyn Perez, however, received a little more than what she bargained for.
In Feb. 2013, Perez — a UCF student at the time — and her sister entered a Bloomingdales with the intention of trying on sunglasses. They instead walked out with a career-changing recommendation for Perez.
Jewelry consultant Peter Morales spotted Perez in the store and immediately complimented her beauty, asking her if she had ever modeled. He then suggested she try out for a beauty pageant, and little did Perez know what she thought was a simple compliment could ultimately lead her to being crowned as the first-ever Miss Florida World America 2015 in April.
Morales, who has been working as a fashion designer for more than 20 years, said when he saw Perez, he knew that "this is a girl who is not going to be overseen."
He suggested Perez attend a preliminary round for Miss Florida USA, which was being held in Kissimmee, and offered to design her pageant dress because he specializes mostly in beauty pageant gowns and couture dresses.
Although she never thought about entering a beauty pageant, Perez said she didn't want to miss what could be a great opportunity.
"Kailyn has the ability to communicate through a way of talking and projecting herself that is very unique and very powerful." Morales said. "Everything she does, she does with a big smile."
When Perez decided to take part in the pageant, her ambitions, enthusiasm and personality shined through. She eventually won runner-up and gained a new perspective on how she can connect her personal goals to the pageant world.
"Through pageants, I realized I can reach people and have an influence in a way I wouldn't have otherwise," she said. "I have that drive to make a change in my community and be able to spread a message of positivity to young women and to people in general."
Although she didn't win Miss Florida USA, she realized how inspired she became while experiencing the pageant world.
Last March, with the help of Morales, Perez decided to apply to a newly-formed pageant, Miss Florida World America 2015.
She used her innate flair in public speaking, her personal experiences and her dance background to showcase her talent and make her way to the top.
Growing up in a single-parent household, Perez gained a special appreciation for her family.
"I have the most amazing mom and family in the whole world," Perez said. "I couldn't imagine not having that kind of support in my life. I couldn't imagine that for children."
Working with organizations such as A Kid's Place and the Faine House, Perez focuses her platform on foster youth and providing homes, education and life-long skills to children in need.
The Tampa native started at UCF in 2010, majoring in political science, while also working as a freelance model.
During her time at UCF, Perez was involved in the Student Government Association, taking on the roles of senate representative and chair of the Elections and Appointments Committee.
With the dedication toward different outlets in college, Perez was unsure about the path she would take after graduation.
After graduating in December 2013, Perez was accepted to law schools in and out of state, but decided she wanted to model full time and pursue a business endeavour. She will, however, go back to that dream as she pursues a corporate and Internet law degree at Stetson University this fall.
In the intermin, Perez has launched a start-up company called Sociover, which focuses on teaching proper social media etiquette and offers services that can revamp social sites.
"Through pageants, I realized what a source social media is. I use it to promote my platform and my personal brand," she said.
While continuing to work on her company and modeling, Perez plans on fulfilling more accomplishments in the pageant world.
On July 3, she will compete against 50 other young women in Washington, D.C. for the chance to be crowned Miss World America 2015. The winner will represent the country at the esteemed Miss World 2015 pageant.
"I hope I can represent Florida well. I hope I can represent our school in the best way possible," Perez said.
While some students go into college without the vision of what their career path will look like, Perez says it's important to soak in every opportunity that is presented.
"If you have a goal or dream, and you're not sure exactly the plan, take advantage of every opportunity, especially at UCF," Perez said. "As long as there is some kind of good that can come from it, go for it because you never know where the opportunity can lead you to one day."
Marina Guerges is the Editor-in-Chief at the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @marinaguerges or email her at MarinaG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.