Student from Mahomet in running for queen

The University of Kentucky has almost 30,000 students.

Senior Erika Penrose is one of them.

The University of Kentucky has five women on its homecoming court this week.

Mahomet's Penrose is one of them.

It's a quantum leap for a person who was never a member of a homecoming or prom court while in high school.

"I never dreamed of getting on," Penrose said, "and it didn't bother me that I didn't (in the past). My goal is to help as many people as I can. I'm not looking for awards."

Still, as one of her university's finalists, Penrose is giving it the old college try.

"I'm going in with no expectations," she said, "but I've made it this far and I have as good of a chance as anyone."

She participated in a talent show earlier this week.

Penrose did a five-minute standup comedy routine, which she had no difficulty in preparing.

"I think I'm funny all the time," she said, "but I don't know if other people do."

She started her routine by sharing a conversation with her roommate, Allison Gant.

"When I first heard about this talent show, my immediate reaction was extreme excitement," Penrose related. "I actually ran to my roommate Allison. I was like, 'Holy cow, Allison, listen to this amazing opportunity.'

"In my head, ideas are reeling as I start thinking about how talented I am; I'm wondering how I'll even pick one. I can do an interpretive dance to pretty much any Disney movie, I do a mean Shrek impression, but best of all — and this is serious — I'm actually really good at playing the piano. So good, in fact, that I can play Mary had a Little Lamb, with my eyes closed.

"Anyway, I pitch my idea to Allison and am immediately disappointed as she looks at me with a disappointed face and responds, 'Erika. The ability to eat an entire Papa John's pizza by yourself does not qualify as an actual talent.' "

Regardless of what name is mentioned when the results of campuswide voting are announced today, Penrose already feels like a winner.

"My sorority (Alpha Gamma Delta) had to pick a candidate," Penrose said. "I thought there were 10 or 15 seniors who might be the best."

The issue was put to a vote of the approximately 200 residents of the sorority.

Penrose was the choice.

"The people I was going up against (including the sorority president), I admired," Penrose said. "I'm excited to represent my chapter."

Before she was chosen for the elite homecoming court, however, she had to survive another cut.

The queen candidates were whittled to 10 (as were the king candidates), who were then interviewed.

Five finalists were selected.

Among the questions Penrose — and the others — faced were ones about how the student had given back to the Lexington community and how challenges that might arise on campus should be addressed by the student body.

In response to the latter question, Penrose said, "I mentioned an overarching problem that no one really likes to talk about in any situation.

"I mentioned inclusion, and I feel that this is a problem on pretty much every campus across the nation, but it's a problem which I feel could be resolved if people went into things with more open minds. It's a frustrating problem, because it covers more than just race, religion, or gender.

"The problem of inclusion can be as simple as organizations only inviting members from certain geographical regions or only inviting members who are parts of similar groups, but also as overarching as certain students not being given the same treatment as others.

"I think the biggest issue is that the problem of inclusion plagues more groups than anyone, on a college campus or otherwise, would like to admit and I think the only way to solve it is for people to take a step back and remember that we're all human and that at the end of the day, all of the boundaries that people create in their minds are simply that — created — and that building walls doesn't help anyone move forward."

Penrose, a biology major who is minoring in French, had plenty of qualifications to list.

In addition to her sorority activities, she was involved with a pre-medical fraternity for a year, was part of a Christian student fellowship and joined a teaching organization called "4 Kids."

She is currently active in Students Helping Honduras, which is an organization raising money to help build schools there.

She was also a volunteer at a local hospital for a year and — since January — has been working at least four mornings a week before classes at a doughnut shop where she said she does "a little bit of everything."

It was by design that her activities were varied from year to year.

"College, to me, is about trying new things," Penrose said. "Each year, I picked new things."As a result, she is well-known throughout the campus.

"I know a lot of people," she said. "There's not a single time I'm walking to class and I don't see one or two people I know. I like to be a friendly face and say 'hi' to people. It's a goal to be welcoming."

Penrose said she is following up on an example set for her by a sorority sister who was a senior during her freshman year.

"She was the most friendly person I ever met," Penrose said. "I aspired to be more outgoing and down to earth like the candidate (Anne Marie Kirk) was that year, and to be a more caring and genuine person. I've tried to embody the qualities she possessed."

Penrose is in line to graduate in May with a bachelor's degree and is working on applications to physician assistant programs, but may defer her enrollment for a year in order to pursue volunteer opportunities.

She has altered her thinking since leaving M-S.

"In high school, I dreamed of medical school," Penrose said, "but in today's society, a doctor might not be the smartest choice. A PA is more flexible and has more patient contact."

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