UCF Alumna Crowned First Miss Florida World America 2015

(Photo: Central Florida Future/Courtesy Barón DaParré)
Kailyn Perez, ’13, dancing during the talent portion of a pageant
(Photo: Central Florida Future/Courtesy Barón DaParré)

By Marina Guerges
Central Florida Future

Most shoppers enter a mall to window shop, try on clothing or purchase items. UCF alumna Kailyn Perez, however, received a little more than what she bargained for.

In February 2013, Perez, a UCF student at the time, and her sister entered a Bloomingdale’s with the intention of trying on sunglasses. They instead walked out with a career-changing recommendation for Perez.

Jewelry consultant Peter Morales spotted Perez in the store and immediately complimented her beauty, asking her if she had ever modeled. He then suggested she try out for a beauty pageant, and little did Perez know what she thought was a simple compliment could ultimately lead her to being crowned as the first-ever Miss Florida World America 2015 in April.

Morales, who has been working as a fashion designer for more than 20 years, said when he saw Perez, he knew that “this is a girl who is not going to be overseen.”

He suggested Perez attend a preliminary round for Miss Florida USA, which was being held in Kissimmee, and offered to design her pageant dress because he specializes mostly in beauty pageant gowns and couture dresses.

Although she never thought about entering a beauty pageant, Perez said she didn’t want to miss what could be a great opportunity.

“Kailyn has the ability to communicate through a way of talking and projecting herself that is very unique and very powerful,” Morales said. “Everything she does, she does with a big smile.”

When Perez decided to take part in the pageant, her ambitions, enthusiasm and personality shined through. She eventually won runner-up and gained a new perspective on how she could connect her personal goals to the pageant world.

“Through pageants, I realized I can reach people and have an influence in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “I have that drive to make a change in my community and be able to spread a message of positivity to young women and to people in general.”

Although she didn’t win Miss Florida USA, she realized how inspired she became while experiencing the pageant world.

Last March, with the help of Morales, Perez decided to apply to a newly formed pageant, Miss Florida World America 2015.

She used her innate flair in public speaking, her personal experiences and her dance background to showcase her talent and make her way to the top.

Growing up in a single-parent household, Perez gained a special appreciation for her family.

“I have the most amazing mom and family in the whole world,” Perez said. “I couldn’t imagine not having that kind of support in my life. I couldn’t imagine that for children.”

Working with organizations such as A Kid’s Place and the Faine House, Perez focuses her platform on foster youth and providing homes, education and life-long skills to children in need.

The Tampa native started at UCF in 2010, majoring in political science, while also working as a freelance model.

During her time at UCF, Perez was involved in the Student Government Association, taking on the roles of senate representative and chair of the Elections and Appointments Committee.

With the dedication toward different outlets in college, Perez was unsure about the path she would take after graduation.

After graduating in December 2013, Perez was accepted to law schools in and out of state, but decided she wanted to model full time and pursue a business endeavour. She will, however, go back to that dream as she pursues a corporate and Internet law degree at Stetson University this fall.

“If you have a goal or dream, and you’re not sure exactly the plan, take advantage of every opportunity, especially at UCF.”

In the intermin, Perez has launched a start-up company called Sociover, which focuses on teaching proper social media etiquette and offers services that can revamp social sites.

“Through pageants, I realized what a source social media is,” she said. “I use it to promote my platform and my personal brand.”

While continuing to work on her company and modeling, Perez plans on fulfilling more accomplishments in the pageant world. On July 3, she will compete against 50 other young women in Washington, D.C., for the chance to be crowned Miss World America 2015. The winner will represent the country at the esteemed Miss World 2015 pageant.

“I hope I can represent Florida well,” Perez said. “I hope I can represent our school in the best way possible.”

While some students go into college without the vision of what their career path will look like, Perez says it’s important to soak in every opportunity that is presented.

“If you have a goal or dream, and you’re not sure exactly the plan, take advantage of every opportunity, especially at UCF,” Perez said. “As long as there is some kind of good that can come from it, go for it because you never know where the opportunity can lead you to one day.”

This article appeared in the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited for style. See original story.

17-Year-Old UCF Graduate Lands Software Job

AdrianGilliam
(Photo: Central Florida Future/Courtesy of Adrian Gilliam)

By Bridgette Norris
Central Florida Future

Most students graduate college in their early 20s, but Adrian Gilliam was ready a bit earlier.

At age 17, Adrian graduated from UCF this spring with a computer software job awaiting him at Optima Healthcare Solutions.

“Living in Orlando influenced my decision to attend UCF,” he says. “UCF has a really good engineering program — especially for computer science. I never was really trying to be the youngest graduate. But, being such a young graduate is something I’m proud of. I’m just a normal [alumnus].”

Adrian is one of UCF’s youngest graduates, in addition to a 16-year-old who graduated in 1998, according to a press release.

Michael Gilliam, ’93, Adrian’s father and College of Business Administration alumnus, says he was beaming ear to ear when he watched his son walk across the stage at graduation.

“I don’t think age had anything to do with [him] maintaining good grades and involvement,” Michael explains. “He just set his priorities and spent a lot of time making sure he had acceptable grades and high enough grades to get into graduate school if he decided to do that. I think it was just a matter of him setting his priorities.”

At the age of 4, Adrian started home schooling through Florida Virtual School. As he continued to learn online, taking honors and advanced placement courses, he was also learning martial arts and Mandarin, in which he is now fluent.

He enrolled at UCF at the age of 13.

“I think from the beginning, a lot of what encouraged me to take this route was my parents,” Adrian says. “As I started progressing, I definitely became more self-motivated. If I hadn’t of taken the route I did, I would be going into my senior year [of high school].”

His father accredits his patient and helpful personality to his involvement with martial arts.

In 2007, Adrian won his first of several national-level tournaments at the U.S. Open Karate Championships. At age 10, he earned his black belt.

“Growing up, people always said, ‘Don’t you miss normal school, or wish you went to normal school?’ Adrian says. “But, you can’t miss something you never had. I was very happy with the experience and opportunities I had. I felt like I was still able to get social interaction through things like martial arts while still being able to excel academically.”

He jokes about his biggest struggle at UCF being that he was not able to sign up for the Recreation and Wellness Center because he wasn’t 18.

During his time on campus, he served as president and vice president of the Asian Pacific American Coalition, senator for the College of Engineering and Computer Science in the Student Government Association, and an undergraduate teaching assistant for an introduction to programming course.

Although Adrian is currently taking a break from school, his long-term goal is to continue his education and eventually become a professor.

This article appeared in a May 20, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited for style. See original story.

Distinguished Student 2014

Donna Perez, '83, '88 (left), the 1982 winner of the Distinguished Student Award, presented this year's award to Cynthia Florentino, '14. (PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)
Donna Perez, ’83, ’88 (left), the 1982 winner of the Distinguished Student Award, presented this year’s award to Cynthia Florentino, ’14.
(PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)
Cynthia Florentino, ’14 | Google Policy Fellow, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Cynthia Florentino graduated from UCF with a political science degree after dedicating the majority of her time to professional development and extracurricular involvement. Florentino served in a cabinet position for the UCF Student Government Association and enrolled in a federal college program, where she became chair of the President’s Leadership Council her senior year. She currently attends graduate school in Washington, D.C., and continues to pursue her dream of transforming lives with the use of the Internet as a tool for empowerment.

Learn more about Cynthia: