St. Patrick’s Day pageant a ‘whirlwind’ experience for graduate student

When University graduate student Lauren Corry heard about Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Queen pageant from her roommate, she was intrigued, but did not know exactly what was in store.

“I had never done a pageant or beauty contest, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Corry said. “I got super nerdy and studied up on Irish facts and history, but the contest focused more on us personally.”

On Feb. 21, Corry was chosen to be one of 4 members of the Queen’s court, out of an original pool of 126 women. Everything moved quickly from that point, culminating in last weekend’s events, where Corry found herself taking photographs with the prime minister of Ireland, shaking hands with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and riding in a convertible downtown in front of thousands at Chicago’s 2010 St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 13.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Corry said. “All the people I’ve met, the fancy events I’ve been to: it’s just been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Although the pageant’s queen received a free trip to Ireland, Corry said she was surprised at the gifts provided to court members, including jewelry and gold watches. Besides the gifts, Corry said the pageant has also been a valuable networking opportunity.

“The whole thing has helped me meet lots of Chicago professionals who also come from an Irish heritage,” Corry said.

Catie Fadden, an assistant parade coordinator and volunteer, said court members’ expectations fell short of the actual breadth of events.

“I think the girls went into this weekend with some idea of what was in store, but the actual events went way beyond their expectations,” she said. “It’s not just about coming to the parade, waving and saying, ‘Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.’ They participate in a whirlwind of events.”

Corry said she first heard about the competition from former roommate Katie Prendergast, senior in Education, who applied for the pageant but later dropped out.

“My cousins had done it before and they made me apply,” Prendergast said. “When it came down to it, I couldn’t take all that time off.”

As a full-time graduate student and teaching assistant at the University, Corry had to balance her existing commitments with the demands of the pageant. Since the contest began several months ago, Corry said she had to commute between campus and Chicago about eight times a week, forcing her to miss some classes.

“I mentioned to some of my professors that I was a finalist a while back, but I had to talk to them again once I knew I was on the court,” Corry said. “I’ve definitely missed some classes, but they’ve all been really cool and lenient about it.”

There was one responsibility Corry did not want to skip, though.

“I teach pre-kindergarten and kindergarten kids on Saturdays, and I had to get a sub,” Corry said. “But now, I get to tell them about how I was a princess last weekend.”