Rewarding. Overwhelming. Joyful.
That’s how Homecoming Queen Ciara Knapp has described her time wearing the crown. Being the daughter of a formal wear store owner and a store director for Meijer, she’s soft-spoken, but poised and fearless when talking about her experience as a first generation college student.
“There’s still some things I struggle with. I have many questions like, ‘How does this work? Or when do I do this?’ My parents are just like me — they don’t know. So it can get so frustrating. Sometimes I definitely have to reach out and find people at the school to do that.”
As an ambassador and former orientation leader, Knapp knows the importance of visiting colleges, something that was crucial to her own decision-making process when choosing Ole Miss.
“So I had a few schools narrowed down, and Ole Miss was the first school I visited. Ever since I stepped foot, I was just sold,” she said. “I thought it was adorable. I really liked the personal tours they gave compared to other schools. Everyone was really welcoming and really wanting to work with me to try to get as much scholarship as I could. And just felt like they really cared about me as a student and not a number. And I liked that. And I still feel that today.”
Despite the feelings of home she gets from the university, Knapp smiles when talking about the Midwest and her hometown of Springfield, Illinois. Laughing, she describes the city’s many tributes to President Abraham Lincoln, who shares her hometown.
“He’s featured in everything we do,” she joked.
In addition to a former commander-in-chief, the city has a history of another legacy: show choir national champions. She won her own title in high school, when she performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville twice.
Her most memorable performance happened during her junior year, where the group took home the grand title. The ballad, a slow Broadway piece, sticks out in her mind.
“(My favorite song to perform) was called ‘Always Starting Over’ from the musical ‘If/Then,’” she said. “And it just meant a lot to my group. That was the song we actually won with that year at nationals, and it has a lot of good metaphors and just meaning to life and how you’re always starting over, but that doesn’t mean that what was put in the past is gone. You should focus on the present.”
There’s a lot to focus on in Knapp’s present. When she’s not strumming on her guitar to relax, she spends 12-13 hours on campus a day, sharing time between her extracurriculars, hanging out at the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority house and studying at the library. The day before the interview for this article, she had received her first optometry school acceptance to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and she plans on interviewing at several other schools in the coming weeks.
As a self-proclaimed “science-minded” biology major, she plans on studying optometry after almost losing her sight to an infection that scarred her eye.
Her campaign trail for queen began in the spring after friends encouraged her to run, and she credits her success to them. Her biggest supporter? Her friend, Anna Hall.
Hall, a junior public policy and journalism major, said that during the campaign, it was amazing to watch her friend make connections with all kinds of members of the student body.
“She’s just such a genuine person, and I think that she like truly cares about everyone. And I think that a lot of people got to see that. I think that’s what really set the tone throughout the whole campaign period was just her being around and being her usual self and having those face-to-face interactions with people and connecting with them.”
Hall, who served on Ciara’s campaign team, said she admires how Knapp both acknowledges her roots while bettering the Ole Miss community.
“She has such a special story. I mean, she came here and she didn’t know anyone. She came to this new place and really made it her own. It’s something that’s really inspired me. To see her get involved with this campus and just be a wonderful representation of everything that Ole Miss can be for new students and all the opportunities it has and that it offers to you. I think that she’s just a really beautiful representation of what a difference (you) can make on this campus in your four years.”
Election day was stressful for Hall, especially after the announcement of record-turnout for voters. Unlike her friend, Knapp followed through her Tuesday as she would during any other week. After buying 15 chicken biscuits for her campaign team, she hiked to Business Row for one final push before the 7 p.m. deadline, serene and content with whatever was to come later that night.
“I was just very at ease. I was really surprised with how relaxed I was,” she said. “I kind of just kept telling myself, ‘All right, here’s a little post on Facebook for tomorrow for when I don’t win, you know, make a congratulatory post for like the winner,’ and whatnot.”
Donned in all white, Knapp will represent the student body that voted for her as she walks across Hollingsworth Field.
“The thing I love most about Ole Miss is that I am a first generation college student from Illinois and that it was a huge football school with lots of spirit, legacy and tradition,” she said. “And what I love is that I felt like, ‘I know I’m here to leave my own mark in many ways.’ I’m so happy to have all students, in-state or out-of-state, matter. The fact that openness is so welcoming to everyone, and that is what I hope I carry on homecoming to everyone who comes to campus.”