By Amanda Graham
Since the start of the Miss FIU Pageant in 2004 and the Mr. FIU pageant in 2011, students have had the opportunity to showcase their school pride and commitment to the community.
For Torya Whittaker, Miss FIU 2015, and Michael Cabral, Mr. FIU 2015, being part of the pageant has taught them more than leadership skills – it’s given them a sense of empowerment.
“The pageant has taught me that I don’t need a six-pack to win, I just needed to have confidence,” Cabral said. “It also taught me that I have a lot more to offer than I think.”
Cabral is an international student from Trinidad and Tobago who is currently studying Management of Information Systems in the School of Business. He also works as an FIU tour guide; DJs at Dance Marathon as well as other school events; and is a member of Sigma Chi Fraternity.
Whittaker is currently studying Broadcast Media in hopes of becoming a news anchor for Entertainment Tonight. She is also a model coordinator for Eclipse Fashion Society – a modeling dance troop that specializes in urban modeling.
Whittaker, who struggled to make a decision as to whether to compete in the pageant with her
natural hair, decided to take a leap of faith and enter the pageant with her afro.
“Having natural hair is what encouraged me to do it because I just wanted to be myself,” she said. “It was a confidence booster.”
The pageant gives contestants the chance to win a scholarship of up to $1,500. In the last three years, the Mr. and Miss Florida International University Scholarship Pageant has awarded $8,500 in scholarships to contestants.
“I didn’t know it was a scholarship pageant before I ran for it, so that was a nice surprise,” Cabral said. “I just did it because I wanted to be Mr. FIU. I just really love this school and wanted to represent it.”
Aside from representing the school, the Miss FIU contestants have a rare opportunity to represent the university while competing at the Miss Florida Scholarship Pageant.
“This pageant is different than other pageants because it’s definitely more hands on,” Whittaker said. “They are actually there to help you.”
The Miss and Mr. FIU committee members, made up of several FIU students, recruit contestants and educate competitors on the different elements of the pageant.
Each contestant has to submit a platform for which they will advocate while a titleholder. Contestants work within the community on behalf of the organization of their choosing and give back to a cause close to their heart.
“The biggest misconception about the pageant is that it’s just about beauty, but it’s a lot more,” Whittaker said. “People overlook the fact that we have to have a platform we have to advocate for and do community service.”
Whittaker will be participating in the March of Dimes’ biggest fundraiser, the signature Chef’s auction. She is also planning to make care packages for parents with premature babies. Her goal is to team up with Wal-Mart and Kmart to donate diapers, wipes and other items to NICU units.
Along with her efforts to support the March of Dimes, Whittaker is also using her time to support the official platform for the Miss American Foundation: the Children’s Miracle Network. She is working closely with the Nicholas Children’s hospital, a member of the Children’s Miracle Network, to visit the kids and make trick or treat bags with them.
“The pageant is definitely a great opportunity to get out there,” she said.
With the support of Shannonlee Rodriguez, the Mr. and Miss FIU Scholarship pageant advisor, the FIU community, and even President Mark B. Rosenberg, both Whittaker and Cabral hope to continue the legacy of Mr. and Miss FIU.
“I want people to recognize what FIU has to offer,” Cabral said. “I want people to get involved and take advantage of all the opportunities that we have here.
The Mr. and Miss FIU pageant is open to all students who want to embody school spirit and live the values of the Miss America Organization. For more information about the pageant visit missfiu.fiu.edu. To apply, email Shannonlee Rodriguez at missFIUpageant@gmail.com.