it’s Just Kind of a big deal to me

On syllabus day every semester, at least one of my professors will ask for a fun fact from each of us so that we can all get to know each other before spending an entire semester breathing the same air. I usually stick to safe facts, such as the name of the car I am driving at the time (currently I drive a 2017 Jeep Renegade named Winnie); my secret ninja skills (I have a black belt in tae kwon do); or that I’ve moved over 20 times in my life (for my dad’s job).

I have not once revealed to a class that I was my high school’s homecoming queen. It always seemed like an embarrassing thing to tell people, something that would make me seem stuck up or fake. In fact, very recently a friend I’ve had since freshman year of college told me that he’s always considered me somewhat superficial because I had confessed to being a homecoming queen.

My reaction to being crowned my high school’s Homecoming Queen

I’m sure for some schools it was about who knew who best, but in all honesty, homecoming queen at Medina High School was not just some popularity contest. It was a huge deal. I was elected from a school of 2,000 kids, and while only 12% of the students actually voted, that’s still a significant amount of people that had to be impressed. For someone who has struggled with depression, it was probably the highlight of my high school experience to receive this autumn honor, and it was a feeling that I will never forget.

I certainly had to work to get there. Applications for Court were sent out in the summertime, and the deadline to apply was shortly after the first week of classes. You could nominate any senior girl you wanted, but she had to fill out a packet of essays in order to even be considered by a panel of faculty and student council members. They narrowed it down to a top 15, the Court, and from there the girls were expected to give a speech to the entire student body. It would be broadcasted live on the school’s television channel, and it had to be about a hat.

With a last name like Van Leeuwen, you know that you’re alphabetically coming last, so I knew I had to make a good impression with my speech. Other girls wore baseball caps or football helmets. One girl wore a sombrero, and another wore a giant shark on her head. They had to wear the hat and tell the audience why the hat described them. I got up to the podium wearing my grandfather’s military cap and talked about bravery:

“I’m scared to drive in the winter because I’m afraid I’ll drive off the road and get stuck in a ditch. I’m scared to talk to cute boys because I might spit on them or something. I’m scared to stand up on stage and ask my classmates to vote for me for Homecoming Queen, but if my grandfather could wear this cap and train to fight for his country, then I can be up here talking to you all today.”

I nearly sprinted offstage.

A week later in my school’s gymnasium, I dressed up like Perry the Platypus and ran from one basketball hoop to the other with my friend Dylan chasing after me in a white lab coat. We were required to dress up for the Homecoming Pep Rally, and this was the best idea I could come up with. Other girls were crayons, Disney princesses, or sporting football jerseys…but in a fedora I stood in the middle of the court, among a Court, while my name was announced as royalty.

I could hear my friends screaming from the stands. I could see a standing ovation from the moment the first syllable of my name was called. I could feel the vibrations of stamping feet and jumping students rivaling the tingling of my hands and beating of my heart. I could taste saltwater as I fanned my face like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality.

Most of all, I could tell that no matter how sad I would ever be, or how alone I would ever think I was, nothing could take away from the fact that at one point in my life, I was on top of the world.