You may have seen them riding atop vehicles in this year’s IPL 500 Festival Parade or rounding the turns on the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — dressed to impress with a sash and tiara.
Being a 500 Festival Princess is certainly a royal honor, but it’s not a beauty pageant. The program celebrates 33 college-aged women who serve as ambassadors of the 500 Festival, their hometowns and their colleges and universities.
“I honestly didn’t know much about the 500 Festival and the rich history behind it until I was a part of the Princess Program,” said Emily Carnes, administrator at Brown County Health & Living, a CarDon & Associates’ senior living community located in Nashville, Ind. “But applying for that program is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
In 2014, Emily was 22 years old and in her senior year at Indiana University studying healthcare administration when she started the application process to be a 500 Festival Princess for the 2015 race.
“I actually had a friend apply for the Princess Program a couple years before, and she was telling me about it. It’s focused on education and networking and getting your face out there. They set you up with some of Indianapolis’ best mentors who are on the 500 Board, and you are paired up with someone who has a background closest to what you are going to school for. They help you get connected to the right people to move forward in your search for a career.”
Much more than a pretty face and a crown.
Carnes wasn’t sure about stepping out of her comfort zone to apply. All candidates must have a cumulative college GPA of at least 3.0 and actively involved in at least one worthwhile extra-curricular college or community service activity. They also must be able to attend and willing to make a 1-2 minute speech about themselves at the 500 Festival Princess Reception.
But with the chance to have more volunteer opportunities, Emily went for it. First, she filled out an online application including a written essay describing why she thought she should be chosen.
“In my essay, I focused on how much I wanted to volunteer in the community. I was working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at the time and knew I wanted a career in the healthcare industry. It was really meaningful to me to be able to have more volunteer opportunities.”
A graduate of Springs Valley High School in French Lick, Ind., Carnes’ graduating class had just 70 people. And that was one of the larger classes!
“I wanted to be able to come back to my high school and my community and let people know there are many opportunities to grow and develop after high school and after leaving French Lick, if that’s a desire they have. There are so many people to meet and learn from — if you have the goal, you can do it.”
Her words and perspective made an impact — Emily was chosen to move on to the interview portion of the program.
“I went through several interviews during the process,” she said. “Each interview panel had three or four people who ask you all kinds of questions about your education, your career path and what you see your future looking like.”
Within the span of a few months in early 2015, Carnes had been interviewed by community members, 500 Board members and past Festival Princesses about everything from what kind of classes she was taking at IU to stories about growing up and her future goals. A field of more than 150 candidates was narrowed down to about 50.
After one final interview in March, Emily learned the big news that she had been chosen as one of the 33 Festival Princess for the 2015 race.
“They sent me an email, and I was shocked,” she said. “I had never done something like that before, and I was ecstatic.”
Princesses are required to participate in several events throughout the month of May, including the 500 Festival Princess Program Reception, Mini-Marathon, IPL 500 Festival Parade and, of course, the Indianapolis 500. In addition, Princesses are encouraged to participate in other community activities between March and May, including visits to community centers, hometown schools and hospitals.
“We are encouraged to plan our own outreach activities as well as attend those planned by other Princesses,” Emily said. “I did one outreach event at my hometown elementary school and brought the Pace Car out for all the students to see. I also brought the Pace Car to the nursing home I was working at on weekends — telling residents about the 500 and interacting with everyone.”
And while those hometown volunteer opportunities were certainly impactful, Emily also attended and actively participated in many other outreach initiatives around town.
“My favorite was the Riley Cancer Center Prom. We got to help some of the young patients at Riley pick out dresses and get ready for the Prom. One of the girls was 11 or 12 at the time. She had just gotten out of surgery, and I got to help her pick out a beautiful dress and jewelry to go with it. She got the chance to dress up and feel absolutely pampered and gorgeous, and that meant the world to me to be able to do that with her.”
Carnes’ 500 Festival mentor, Bob Brody, President and CEO at Franciscan St. Francis Health, was a tremendous influence on her during and after her time with the Princess Program.
“He was absolutely great,” Emily said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. He was so helpful and willing to connect me to prominent people in the healthcare industry. He even let me sit in on one of his field hospital meetings to meet and network with those in long-term care, what I was most interested in.”
Emily has been the administrator at Brown County Health & Living for several months, and she truly enjoys the small-town feeling she gets there.
“I absolutely love how passionate everyone is and how much the staff cares for our residents. It makes this community — and this world — a better place.”
For this year’s Indianapolis 500, Emily was able to connect with Princess Program alumna and talk about what they’ve been up to and how the experience shaped who they are.
“The Princess Program really set me up for doing something I enjoy and love and helped guide my path,” she said. “It was an amazing opportunity that gave me so many worthwhile connections and experiences. I would recommend it to anyone.”
A real crowning achievement.