Ocoee High pageant allows senior students to showcase talents, ambitions
The Mr. and Miss Ocoee pageant is Ocoee High’s way of spotlighting the school’s seniors, their presence on campus and their talents.
| 5:22 p.m. March 3, 2017
West Orange Times & Observer
OCOEE As the curtains opened, the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song started playing, and students in neon T-shirts — some with flannels tied around their waists — danced and skipped onstage in true ’90s fashion.
The audience cheered as they made their way through the choreography. In the background, boards painted as brick walls had each student’s name spray-painted graffiti style to complete the alleyway look.
This was the opening number that set the tone for Ocoee High School’s Mr. and Miss Ocoee pageant Thursday, Feb. 23, as 13 seniors competed for the titles. Ultimately, Shakur Wright and Rahjanique Locklear claimed the crowns.
HISTORY BEHIND THE TITLE
Student Government Association adviser and leadership teacher Wendy Cartwright was one of the first on staff hired at Ocoee High before its opening in 2005. Two years in, when the softball team was attempting to kickstart a girls’ pageant, she knew she wanted to get the boys involved in their own, similar competition. The “Big Man on Campus” competition was her brainchild.
However, the girls’ pageant never quite got the momentum it needed. That’s when Cartwright helped merge the two and created Mr. and Miss Ocoee.
“It’s so much fun,” Cartwright said of the pageant. “That’s the big thing: It’s a serous title, but you can see we don’t take it too seriously. It’s not stuffy, it’s fun.”
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Talents this year ranged from singing and dancing to lip-syncing, acting, first-aid demonstrations and even football.
“The talent was so varied,” Cartwright said. “David (Span) is a football player so we were like, ‘OK, if that’s what you’re good at, let’s figure out a way to show that.’ Genesis (Ford) is really good with first aid and safety, so she found a way to show that. It’s not just singing and dancing, so it shows the diversity of the kids.”
But the pageant doesn’t just spotlight the students on stage. The entire production was student-run and only supervised by Cartwright. From the ticket-takers and concessions workers to stage managers and production technicians, members and officers of SGA ran the show.
“That’s one thing I’m really proud of — the lighting, sound, backstage and tech stuff was all the students, and the decor was all student-painted,” she said. “It’s nice because it spotlights more than just the kids on stage: It spotlights our artists and technicians, too.”
The judges were all connections Cartwright has made through the years, including former Walt Disney World co-workers and former students who now work in the entertainment industry. And aside from representing the school and being in the spotlight, the prize up for grabs was a coveted one for seniors — a free ticket to Universal Studios’ Grad Bash.
“People focus on the negatives with teenagers,” Cartwright said. “This is a very positive thing. You hear the kids talking about their greatest influences and accomplishments.”
TAKING THE CROWN
Although there were supposed to be 14 contestants this year, one got sick the day of the pageant. In total there are six winners — three boys and three girls. Anthony Sulvinski and Lexi Flanigan were the third-place couple, and Wanya Mitchell and Genesis Ford placed second. Shakur Wright, 17, and Rahjanique Locklear, 18, received the first-place titles of Mr. and Miss Ocoee.
Both Locklear and Wright are keeping busy their senior year, with combined involvements in organizations such as the theater program, SGA, National Honor Society, dance team and more.
Wright never expected to win. The senior came into high school as a shy freshman who kept to himself. But perseverance and a change of perspective helped him to come out of his shell and leave the shy version of himself behind.
“As a senior, I just wanted to do everything, so I went ahead and did the pageant,” Wright said of his decision to compete. “I really didn’t think I was going to win. I wanted to do this because it was fun and I wanted to have a good time my senior year.”
Locklear said competing for the crown was making up for lost time. She’s always had an intense focus on schoolwork, which didn’t leave much time to get involved in extracurriculars. This year, however, she’s spread her wings a bit and branched out to make the best of the last of her high-school experience.
“It feels really good for me because I feel like I’ve been having to learn a lot of really tough life lessons in the last couple of months,” she said of taking the title. “It just feels good to have reassurance that it’s OK. Everything is going to be OK, you’re not always going to be perfect, but things will turn out well.”
Locklear will be heading to Georgia State University to study entrepreneurship and performing arts, while Wright hopes to attend a performing-arts school and study to become a veterinarian.