AEC Student Retires as UF Homecoming Queen

During her collegiate career, Saneh Ste. Claire sought out new opportunities to push herself to new heights. A “sneakers-and-ponytail” kind of girl, she could often be spotted on the University of Florida campus, running to teach her group fitness class, practicing her morale routine for Dance Marathon, or decked out in her khakis and white polo leading tours for prospective students as a Florida Cicerone. This is all in between her classes, of course.

Senior year of her undergraduate career, the St. Augustine native had an exciting, yet unexpected, addition. Department of Agricultural Education and Communication (AEC) student Saneh Ste. Claire was crowned as the 2016 University of Florida Homecoming Queen. This significant accomplishment was only a piece in Ste. Claire’s Gator experience.

The Backstory

“I came to AEC in more of a non-traditional way,” said Ste. Claire. “I actually didn’t end up in the department until my junior year, after switching three times.”

Originally, Ste. Claire started as an anthropology major. Her junior year, she decided to change (for the final time) so she would graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education and Communication and two minors. Her first minor was within AEC: leadership. Never losing her passion for anthropology, she ended up using that as her second minor.

“I’m still grateful for my anthropology minor,” said Ste. Claire. “But, transferring into the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) was so natural.”

Ste. Claire immediately found a connection in the department and with CALS.

“I felt so at home. I had never felt so connected with faculty before. Even with my classmates, we had a tight knit community. It was something really special to me.”

Aside from the relationships Ste. Claire was building, she found that she related to a lot of the topics covered in her curriculum, even though she didn’t have an agricultural background.

“I switched my major three times and ended up in agriculture, but it tackled all these topics I really cared about, from holistic health to sustainability to leadership. It was a strange fit for me but it was a type of home.”

Ste. Claire’s “home” also houses the leadership minor, which she says helped her articulate herself to obtain the platform that helped get her crown.

The Pageant

To be considered for the UF Homecoming Court, those interested must first participate in a pageant. The pageant includes an opening group dance number, a Gator attire segment, live questions and an evening gown segment.

“I never thought I would be in a pageant,” said Ste. Claire. “I sort of did it on a whim because my friends were doing it and it was a big UF tradition.”

Ste. Claire would consider herself far from a pageant girl, enough that she had to borrow a dress and enlisted a friend to help with her hair and makeup. When she showed up for the pageant, she was still in her every day, normal attire.

“I texted a bunch of my friends to ask how to prepare for it,” she said. “One of my friends told me she would take care of it all. I showed up in a ponytail, not even close to ready. But, everyone else seemed to have been preparing for hours.”

Ste. Claire’s approach may seem a little unorthodox for a competition, but it wasn’t just a contest for her.

“It was more of a celebration than a competition. If you love UF and love what it stands for, then the pageant is a great way to increase your involvement.”

It was something fun for Ste. Claire – a way to showcase everything she loved about her school.

“The opening dance was my favorite part,” she said. “I was wearing a big skirt and Converse and I remember laughing so hard. We were terrible. I was in the front row, probably because I’m shorter, but I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time. It was great.”

After the first cut of participants, Ste. Claire was one of the last candidates to take her turn with the live questions, due to alphabetical order.

“I remember getting a question about my UF legacy,” she said. “I remember saying that we are all leaders and we have all been really involved, but I want to be remembered as a really good friend. That’s the legacy I want.”

Following the question round, Ste. Claire was chosen to represent her school on Homecoming Court. She would later be crowned Queen during the Gator Growl.

The Next Chapter

For Ste. Claire, being crowned as queen was a huge moment in her life, but just being chosen for Homecoming Court was momentous for her. That being said, it also wasn’t the end point.

“As soon as you’re crowned, you are swept into interviews and photos,” she said. “But, when I finally got home that night, I remember taking my crown off and actually looking at it for the first time, thinking, ‘Wow. How did I get here?”

Ste. Claire credits her involvements with Dance Marathon, group fitness, Cicerones and her leadership minor for helping to cultivate her into someone to represent the university in this capacity.

Her university involvement didn’t end with graduation. Ste. Claire wasn’t finished with AEC, either. This fall, she began classes as a graduate student in the department, pursuing her Master of Science degree with a specialization in Leadership Development.

“I accepted my offer the day I received it,” said Ste. Claire. “Why would I leave when I was on such a good path? I was just getting settled in AEC, and I know I’m not done here.”

The AEC student didn't find herself in the department until her junior year, after three changes in major.

The candidates chosen for Homecoming Court were named in no particular order, but Ste. Claire was excited to hear her name first.

Ste. Claire was recognized for her accomplishments on the field at the 2016 Homecoming Game against Missouri.

Saneh Ste. Claire will be retiring her reign as Homecoming Queen at the 2017 Gator Growl.

Ste. Claire is currently completing her master's degree in AEC.