An avalanche of cheers fell from the Elmont High School bleachers as principal Kevin Dougherty introduced each member of the 2015 homecoming court Saturday.
One by one, five young women in sparkling gowns glided gracefully into a line next to their five male counterparts, each with a smile as dazzling as the ladies’ dresses.
But aesthetics don’t decide who becomes king and queen at Elmont.
For nearly 20 years, Elmont has conducted a rigorous selection process akin to a college interview to name the homecoming king and queen.
The process amazed Dougherty, who experienced his first homecoming Saturday as principal.
“It’s always been about popularity in everyplace I’ve been, but this is just incredible,” he said. “This is way more than a popularity contest. It’s not just the cool kids. Our homecoming court and the king and queen are all-around good people and model citizens.”
Each year, the Elmont senior class is tasked with choosing five males and five females to represent them on the homecoming court. After casting their ballots, the 10 with the most votes undergo an intense and often heart-wrenching interview with a panel of administrators, teachers, parents and community members.
“We ask them what have they done for our school, for our community, and why they should represent Elmont,” said Patricia Justin, Elmont’s student activities director and official homecoming ballot counter. “It’s not just the most beautiful who wins. It’s not just the most popular who wins. It’s a true character evaluation.”
“A large part of the evaluation is about community service and what these kids have done for others,” adds Liz Jones, who serves on the Elmont PTSA and served on the interview committee. “When I was in high school, it was just about popularity. Here, it’s a true test of their heart and their character.”
While the students nervously awaited the final decision on homecoming day, the adults deciding the winners found the decision to be one of the hardest they had ever made.
“The students actually have to open up and share personal experiences, not just school experiences,” said Dougherty. “During the interviews, the stories these students shared were so personal that we had kids and adults in tears.”
The difficult decision was finally made, and it was announced Saturday that Joseph Olawoye and Kayla Babb were the 2015 homecoming king and queen.
“It’s such an honor to be chosen,” said Babb, adding that being elected to the homecoming court allowed all 10 members to be recognized for what they offer the community. Both Babb and Olawoye work as peer educators, and each serve as leaders in clubs and on outreach projects in the community.
“I feel really, truly blessed,” added Olawoye. “It’s not just who you are academically or if you’re popular. It’s who has character and who you are as a person.”