Senior crowned California’s Homecoming Queen

Shauna Perigo

After participating in a statewide competition, senior Gabriela Manuela, Redwood’s Homecoming Queen, was chosen as California’s Homecoming Queen on April 19.

The title of California’s Homecoming Queen is given to one of the Homecoming Queens from across the state, and the winner receives scholarship money, as well as the opportunity to travel to Nashville, Tennessee, over the summer to compete to be America’s Homecoming Queen.

Senior Gabriela Manueal was crowned as California’s Homecoming Queen out of the 13 finalists from across the state, on April 19.
Senior Gabriela Manueal was crowned as California’s Homecoming Queen out of the 13 finalists from across the state, on April 19.

Manuela was one of 13 finalists who traveled to Anaheim, California, for the statewide competition. The finalists were chosen from a pool of 476 applicants.

At the competition, Manuela first underwent an interview process and then wrote an essay about the true meaning of freedom and the American spirit.

“It was a lot of hard work,” Manuela said. “We didn’t get to just walk around and look pretty. That wasn’t a factor actually.”

Manuela said that the interview was unexpected and surprised her.

“We didn’t know about the questions,” she said. “We got there and it was like, ‘This is an interview. Answer these questions.’ They asked us questions about ourselves, questions about our government, our history.”

After the essay came the prom gown section of the competition, which Manuela said did not factor into the girls’ scores.

“It was just to have fun and what they were looking for was that the girls could be confident in themselves and be able to represent California,” Manuela said. “So we walked a runway and after that we had to answer an on-stage question.”

Manuela had to respond to the prompt, “If you could give a speech to your entire student body, what would you say?” Her essay focused on promoting a positive body image among teenage girls, and she said she was then surprised to find out she had to read her essay as a speech to the audience.

“That’s something that I’ve personally struggled with throughout my high school career, so I would just want others to know that you don’t have to look like the people on the magazine covers to feel beautiful or accepted by others,” Manuela said.

Manuela said that when she was announced as the winner, she didn’t believe it at first.

Senior Gabriela Manuela posing for a photo.
Senior Gabriela Manuela posing for a photo.

“I was sitting there with the girls who weren’t in the top four, and they were going to announce the winner,” Manuela said. “I was honestly just thinking to myself how lucky I was to be there and how honored I was to represent Redwood. Then when they said Redwood…it didn’t connect, so I just stood there. And then the girl next to me goes, ‘Oh my god, you won!’ So then I started crying.”

Manuela said she wasn’t even going to apply for the competition initially.

“When I got the letter, I was actually very intimidated by it and I wasn’t going to accept the offer and apply because the girls on the pamphlet all looked like America’s Next Top Model,” Manuela said. “They were just tall and beautiful and I’ve always struggled with seeing myself that way, so I was like, ‘There’s no way I could ever compete with any of these girls.’”

However, after talks with her Advanced Drama and Peer Resource teachers, Manuela decided to apply for the competition.

“They were telling me this is an opportunity that was put in front of me, and I’ve always struggled with how I can pay for college and this was a scholarship opportunity,” Manuela said. “It didn’t cost money for me to go for it. Now when I look back at it I’m glad I took their advice and went for it because look what happened when I didn’t hold myself back.”

Now, Manuela is looking forward to the nationals competition over the summer, where she will take an all-expense paid trip to compete with the winning Homecoming Queen from each state.

“I’m selling California,” Manuela said. “I need to sell it to the judges and the other girls about why California is the best. I need to brush up on my California history for sure, but I will do that before nationals. I just need to be very knowledgeable.”

Manuela will travel to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Tennessee, a place she visited in December when she was chosen as one of two Homecoming Queens to represent California at the Liberty Bowl. Manuela said charity work like this is her favorite part of the competition.

“I’ve formed friendships through this organization and it’s also given me a lot of confidence in myself and what I can do to impact people’s lives,” Manuela said. “Knowing that I stand in a position where I can make a mark in people’s lives and make a difference and use my title not just for a title but to actually do something with it—that’s what I enjoy.”