CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Mt. Vernon grad joins 500 Festival Princess field


INDIANAPOLIS — A 21-year-old McCordsville native has been named an Indianapolis 500 Festival Princess this year.

Jenna Nicodemus, who graduated from Mt. Vernon High School in 2020, will spend the next two months serving as an ambassador for the race known as “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

She and her fellow 32 princesses will do community outreach in the weeks leading up to the race, which takes place Sunday, May 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On May 20, one of them will be named this year’s 500 Festival Queen Scholar at the 500 Festival Breakfast at the Brickyard.

“The 500 Festival Princess Program is not a pageant,” said Nicodemus, but celebrates civic-minded and academically driven young women.

According to program officials, the program gives young women once-in-a-lifetime experiences and countless opportunities for leadership and professional development.

Nicodemus, a senior at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) majoring in public health-epidemiology, was compelled to apply for this year’s court by her friends.

“A few of my friends had previously been a 500 Festival Princesses and raved about the program,” said Nicodemus, a campus ambassador for IUPUI and an intern at the Indiana Department of Health.

“The community outreach and opportunities given through this program are once-in-a-lifetime, so it was an honor to be selected. I had always wished I had a solid role model as a little girl, so I wanted to be that for other little girls through our community work,” she said.

According to a news release, this year’s field of 500 Festival princesses represent 19 Indiana colleges and universities and 21 cities and towns across the state.

With a cumulative GPA of 3.71, the field of 33 was selected from hundreds of applicants based on leadership, academic stewardship, community involvement and their embodiment of the Hoosier spirit.

This year’s class represents a diverse group of women with a range of areas of study that include nursing, elementary education, business, engineering, sports media and pre-med.

According to the release, the princesses play a crucial role in carrying out the 500 Festival’s mission of enriching lives while celebrating the spirit and legacy of the Indianapolis 500, making a positive impact on the city of Indianapolis and state of Indiana.

Each year the princesses conduct more than 1,500 hours of community outreach to more than 50,000 people, educating Hoosiers about the history of the 500 Festival and the legacy of the Indianapolis 500.

The iconic race, which dates back to 1911, draws roughly 300,000 attendants from around the world each year.

Nicodemus can’t wait to play a role in such a historic event, which she grew up watching on TV as a kid.

If she wins the title of queen, the Mt. Vernon grad will get the chance to represent the 500 Festival at various functions throughout the year.

“It’s not my top priority to become the 500 Festival Queen, (but) I am excited for the opportunity to make connections with 32 other strong woman leaders from colleges across the state of Indiana,” she said.

Bob Bryant, 500 Festival president and CEO, said that’s exactly what the 500 Festival Princess Program is all about.

“These 33 young women will have an unforgettable experience, foster life-long friendships, and make meaningful connections throughout their communities and the state of Indiana,” he said.

“We are excited and eager to see the 2023 class of the Princess Program excel in community service and leadership opportunities throughout their hometowns and 500 Festival events.”

Officials said the princess program has a long history of giving young women opportunities to grow professionally while developing leadership skills within their communities.

The 500 Festival Princesses also participate in the 500 Festival Leadership Development Program, presented by FORVIS, which empowers participants to make a profound impact within their community and the state of Indiana.

Each princess receives a $1,000 scholarship and a custom heart-shaped emerald pendant featuring a checkered flag, while the 500 Festival Queen Scholar receives an additional $1,500 scholarship.

Nicodemus is just happy to be serve the community she calls home.

“I am extremely excited to be able to impact the community who made me who I am,” said the college senior, who plans to finish her Master’s in Public Health at IUPUI next year.

“Afterwards I plan to work in the public health field doing more humanitarian-type of work with women and children’s health in other countries,” she said.

For now her focus is on celebrating the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” which she will attend for the first time this year.