Royalty was crowned during the halftime period of the Tiger’s football game against Temple, as this year’s Mr. and Ms. University of Memphis were announced after two weeks of rigorous campaigning for the anxious yet deserving finalists.
Juan Torres and Kyla Harris were announced as this year’s winners and they could not be more ecstatic to win. Many do not realize the process the finalists have to go through to get to that stage. It all starts with one nomination and accepting it. After that door is open, the road to a small campaign begins as the nominees begin to make their case to become a finalist among the record setting 380+ that were nominated.
For Leodan Rodriguez, one of the finalists, being in that position to be picked among the hundreds of qualified representatives of the student body was an honor alone and was already worth the work put to get there.
“As finalists, we already recognized that this is the group that has done enough and so much more,” Rodriguez said. “There really is nothing more that we can give or do except to enjoy the rest of our senior years now. It was years and years of this stuff leading up to it and we’re at this point now where we can enjoy what we’ve accomplished.”
Just in order to be nominated, there are some qualifications that go into that as well. Nominees must be in their senior year, have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and must have shown their engagement with the school by having a lot of involvement in outreach and influence among their peers. The nomination process takes five weeks due to the Student Government Association committee going through the hundreds of nominations and picking five men and five women to officially become the ten finalists.
Rodrigues and Torres, who won the Mr. UofM crown, both graduated from White Station High School in 2017, they came in as freshmen together and are now about to graduate together as well. Standing side by side as the winner was soon to be announced during halftime, Rodriguez was both anxious and excited and hoped if he lost, it could be to his best friend or at least any of the finalists that were more than qualified.
“Win or lose, we both won,” Rodriguez said. “You couldn’t imagine having you and one of your best friends in a very long and selective process and the fact that we both made it this far should say a lot about the kind of men we are. For Juan, this is a legacy he’s building up as Mr. University of Memphis now.”
After finalists are announced, the nonstop two weeks of campaigning begins. All students can vote on the winner, but that is not the only thing that determines who walks away with the crown. Voting is just part of the scoring rubric, albeit a large part.
In the scoring rubric, 10 percent goes to the nominations and the responses of it thereof, 20 percent from the actual application, 10 percent is from the resume submitted, 40 percent is from several interviews with SGA and other important people regarding each finalist’s Community Action Plan, and the final 30 percent is derived from student’s votes.
Torres’ Community Action Plan focused on the student experience during COVID. His plan included three events that focused on Memphis culture, multicultural cuisine highlighting the diversity of the UofM and a community service event partnered with Memphis Botanical Gardens called “Family Day”.
After days of nonstop campaigning for votes and support, it all came down to the announcements where the work they put in would have results. Right before the winners were named, Torres took time to pay his respects no matter the outcome.
“I went up to the finalists and I gave them a hug,” Torres said. “We just told each other that win or lose, we’re still brothers, and still going to have a good time.”
With himself being named the winner, it was all worth the work he had put in to make a difference in and out of campus. Rodriguez expressed immense pride for his best friend winning and the other finalists shared the same emotions as they all were dedicated to the same goal.
“When they announced it, it was those ten seconds of glory that were well well worth me busting my ass,” Torres said. “I worked so hard doing everything I could for the University, my fraternity brothers and my family members. All the late nights, presentations, philanthropies and service I gave were all worth it.”