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Nursing student is 500 Festival princess

April 12, 2017
KOKOMO, Ind. — An Indiana University Kokomo nursing student becomes part of a decades-long iconic Hoosier program, as well as a newer campus tradition, being selected as a 500 Festival princess.

Kayla Meeks joins the nearly 1,800 women honored as among the most civic-minded, academically driven college students in the state, since the program began in 1959. Each year, 33 attain the honor, and the court has included at least one princess representing IU Kokomo each of the past four years.

“It’s humbling to be picked from more than 300 women, as the candidates who most closely exemplify the characteristics of service, character, and kindness,” said Meeks, who is a junior. She added that overall, the 2017 princesses have an average GPA of 3.7, so she is in elite company.

While GPA is important in the application and interview process, community service is also key. Meeks serves as treasurer of the campus Student Nurses Association, teaches children’s church, and works as a student tech at IU Health Methodist Hospital and IU Health Riley Hospital for Children.

In the months leading up to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, festival princesses are involved with statewide outreach projects, including visits to hospitals, schools, and youth programs. They also attend and volunteer at all 500 Festival events in May, participate in pre-race ceremonies, and the Victory Circle celebration.

Meeks is excited to attend the race, and also to participate in the parade.

“We have a parade every year in Peru for the Circus City Festival, but the 500 Festival Parade is the third largest in the country,” she said. “We ride on the first float, and I can’t even imagine how exciting that will be, to see the crowds, and my family.”

Each princess leads four outreach activities of her own, and also attends two planned by colleagues.

Meeks plans programs at the Kokomo Kiwanis Club, a local elementary school, a nursing home, and during a softball day. As a former softball player, she wants to inspire young girls.

“I want to teach them that you can be an athlete and be a girly girl,” she said.

One of the benefits of the program is a $1,000 scholarship, which will help Meeks with her goal of earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her IU Kokomo faculty members inspired her ultimate career plan, to teach future nurses.

“I’ve had some really awesome professors,” she said. “Amanda Leffler and Stephanie Pratt (both assistant professors of nursing) are my role models. They’re good teachers, women, wives, mothers, and volunteers, and I want to follow in their footsteps. I love IU Kokomo, and I can’t imagine going to school anywhere else.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 04/12/2017