KOKOMO, Ind. — Mikayla Tom recalls attending the Indianapolis 500 with her family as a child and being fascinated by the 500 Festival princesses.
“I always wanted to see one who looked like me,” said Tom, from Carmel. “I always wanted to be the princess I never got to see. I’m tall, I’m very body positive, and I am a proud Greek American. I always wanted to advocate on that platform.”
May 30, Tom, who graduated from Indiana University Kokomo in May, experienced the race as a princess.
“It was like a fairy tale,” she said of her race day experience. “It was like a déjà vu moment after seeing all the princesses wearing their tiaras and sashes when I was little, and now here I was doing the same thing.
“I’ve gone to the race many times, and you know it will be different each year, but this one was the most special because I experienced it through a different lens. I was behind the scenes, and I’d turn around and have people stopping me for photos and asking questions. I’d see the little girls’ faces light up because they were meeting a princess. It was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
Tom was one of 33 500 Festival princesses, who represented 19 Indiana colleges and universities and 21 cities and towns across the state. With a cumulative GPA of 3.71, this class was selected from hundreds of applicants based on communication skills, academic performance, community involvement, commitment to service, and leadership.
The young women serve their communities through the festival’s state outreach program, educating Hoosiers about the history of the 500 Festival and legacy of the Indianapolis 500. They also participate in a leadership development program and receive a $1,000 scholarship.
Tom, who earned a business degree in marketing with a minor in New Media, Art, and Technology, will use her scholarship for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at IU Kokomo, focused on human resources. Her goal is to own a record label.
She enjoyed her community outreach programs, especially returning to her own elementary school to teach about the race. She reconnected with her kindergarten teacher, and said the children were very excited she was there.
“Some of the children reminded me of myself at that age,” she said. “Some of them were shy and quiet, or super artists. That’s what I was like then. It made me super emotional, because I could tell how much it meant to them that I was there. I hope they remember me. They made a huge impact on my heart. I will remember that all my life.”
She also participated in a community resource fair at the Indiana School for the Deaf, utilizing the American Sign Language skills she learned in high school, and was touched by how excited the children there were that a princess could speak their language.
Tom added that being chosen adds to her family’s history with the Indianapolis 500. Her grandparents fled genocide in Macedonia, immigrating to the United States and landing in Speedway in 1912. Eager to embrace their new hometown’s culture, they attended the race that year, a tradition their family continues to this day.
Her sister and fellow IU Kokomo alumna Mattie Tom was a princess in 2022.
“My dad said, ‘You got to be the princess you always wanted to be,’” she said. “It was amazing for my parents to have daughters chosen in back-to-back years.
“I’m unbelievably honored and grateful to have been chosen, and to experience what I experienced,” Tom said, “I got to achieve my dream of becoming the person I wanted to see when I was younger.”