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Festival Princesses redefining the role of Indy 500 ambassadors

Students at schools throughout Indianapolis Public Schools recently learned the role of a 2022 Indianapolis 500 Festival Princess is being redefined.

Gone are the days of big hair, waving to the crowds, and silently smiling. Today, being a 500 Festival Princess is about taking on leadership roles as they serve as ambassadors for the greatest spectacle in racing and the city of Indianapolis.

“This is a program that is highly focused on redefining what it means to be a princess,” said Maria De Leon, a proud graduate of Crispus Attucks High School in 2018. “It’s more than putting on the dress, the sash, and waving at people. For me to be a princess means to be courageous, empowering, a leader by challenging the status quo and by challenging gender norms.”

During a week-long tour of IPS schools, 500 Princesses De Leon and Gabbie Black met with hundreds of students across the district as part of their outreach activities.

During her visits to various schools, De Leon has read “Good Boy, Blue!,” a children’s book on Butler University’s canine mascot, “Blue,” who is a fun-loving bulldog.

Those moments with the youngsters meant a great deal to De Leon, who after graduating from IPS has gone on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Butler University and will soon start her professional career at Eli Lilly.

“Through my peers, I have learned that being resilient and adaptable to change is our superpower and over four years, I have reconnected with IPS alumni who are doing amazing things for the community and themselves. IPS is my motivator to continue developing as a leader to be able to invest in my community.”

The 2022 500 Festival Princesses represent 15 Indiana colleges and universities and 22 cities and towns across the state. With a cumulative GPA of 3.62, this year’s 500 Festival Princesses were selected from hundreds of applicants based on communication skills, academic performance, community involvement, commitment to service, and leadership.

Black, a graduate of Brownsburg High School, and a freshman at Indiana University-Bloomington used her expertise from her exercise science major, to relay vital information about exercise during her outreach activities at various IPS schools.

She was accompanied by Charlie Kimball, an IndyCar race winner, who explained how race car drivers were true athletes by providing a video showcasing workout routines designed for such endeavors.

At Butler Lab School 55, Black led a group of elementary school students in burpees and other physical fitness activities – showcasing her love for the field.

Black also has worked closely with IPS Supt. Dr. Aleesia Johnson, who serves as an elected officer for the 2021-2022 500 Festival Board of Directors.

“I spread the passion I have for fitness and incorporate it with IndyCar drivers and the racing world, and just teach kids a little bit about how IndyCar drivers are athletes,” said Black, 19, who is familiar with IPS. Her mother, Carrie Cline-Black, worked in the district’s communications office for several years after a stint with WTHR-13.

My mom used to work for IPS, so I was exposed to the ins and outs of how the largest school district in the state works. While I didn’t attend an IPS school, I did get to interact with many teachers, principals, and students. I learned so much about the amazing opportunities offered and the variety of schools throughout the city.”