For Melissa Aceves, being named a 500 Festival Princess was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.” The Fishers resident applied for the first time this year after receiving an email about the program.
“After talking to two past Princesses who had gone through the program in 2021 and researching the mission, values and goals, I learned that they align with what I believe in and decided to apply without imagining the impact I would also receive from participating in the 500 Festival Princess Program,” Aceves said.
That impact went a step further when she was selected out of the 33 princesses as the Marylne Sexton 500 Festival Queen Scholar.
“The 500 Festival Queen is an individual who profoundly impacted their community and the state of Indiana. The Queen Scholar excels in communication, professionalism and love for their community,” Aceves said. “In addition, the Queen shines through leadership, academic stewardship, community involvement and their embodiment of the Hoosier spirit. When they announced my name, so many emotions went through my mind.
“Then, I walked to the stage where I celebrated this amazing honor with my family, mentors, board of directors and 500 festival Princesses and members.”
The one family member missing, however, was her father, Adam Aceves. The day of the 500 Festival Princess Program was the third anniversary of his death.
“But there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be. I felt like I honored my dad by spending the day learning about the opportunities to make an impact on the lives of our community,” Aceves said. “I know he would be very proud of me, and it means so much that I can celebrate this honor with my family. I know he is watching me with his huge friendly smile, ‘That’s my little girl, my Princess, my Queen.’”
In the months leading up to May, the 500 Festival Princesses did outreach with community organizations. Aceves spent time at Brooke’s Place, an Indianapolis nonprofit that provides grief support and services to children, teens and young adults.
“Every day I carry the loss of grief with me, but I realized that I could also bring my dad’s legacy with me as I go throughout my day. He always had a big friendly smile that created many friendships,” she said. “He always was there to help neighbors and the community, which is what I aspire to be.”
Aceves is a 2022 IUPUI graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health with a concentration in community health. She also has a certificate in nonprofit management and a minor in civic leadership. She is looking for a job where she can “exceed expectations and create an impact.”
“I am incredibly passionate about health equity, social and behavioral sciences, diversity equity and inclusion for organizations and program management for community initiatives/projects,” she said.