Savannah Boneta was born in Fishers; however, she did not grow up in the Hoosier light. She knew what the Indy 500 was, but she had never attended the race or the parade. After submitting her application and completing multiple interview rounds, Boneta was selected for the 500 Festival Princess Program.
Each year, 33 college-aged women are selected and serve as ambassadors for the race, their hometown and their college/university. This rigorous program selects women based on their academic performance, community involvement, commitment to service and leadership abilities. Since 1959, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has provided over 2,000 women with opportunities for leadership and professional development.
In the princess program, the princesses develop their leadership skills and professionalism, connect with their community through outreach events and create lifelong connections and friendships that are crucial in transitioning into the business world.
“What I am most excited about is just seeing the impact of this organization,” Boneta said.
This program attracts women like Boneta; women eager to learn, eager to grow and eager to succeed. Through her connections at Ball State and Fishers, her diverse tool-box of skills and her already established leadership and communication skills, Boneta became a princess.
Boneta moved to Puerto Rico where she lived until her sophomore year of highschool. She came back to the United States to finish her education, graduating from Hamilton Southeastern High School in Carmel, Indiana.
After graduating high school, Boneta wound up at Ball State where she is a third-year student studying public relations. At Ball State, she found her home at Alpha Omicron Pi, where she serves as the director of new member experience.
Here is where the Princess Program entered her vision. Her Grand-Big (G-Big), Sunnie, introduced her to the princess program.
Sunnie Berning, former Indy 500 Princesses, met Boneta through their sorority where Savannah joined Berning's "Greek Fam." Berning became her G-Big, a mentor. This opened the door to something bigger.
"The best way I can sum [royalty status] up was I was more excited when Savannah got [acceptance into the princess program] than I ever was when I got it," Berning said.
Berning opened Boneta's eyes to the princess program.
Berning knew that Boneta would not only love the program, but also provide plenty given her wide range of skills. To Berning, Boneta was a perfect fit.
"I knew it was going to be a great fit for Savannah because I knew she was going to make the most of it, [and] with her having connections in the Fishers area and then her also having her connections here at Ball State, and even how she speaks Spanish, I just knew 100 percent that she would blow it away."
With support from her G-Big, Boneta applied to the princess program.
The princess program receives hundreds of applications each year and only invites about 260 of the top applicants to participate in an interview process. In a field full of highly qualified applicants, Boneta stuck out; she was granted an interview, but her journey to become a princess had merely begun.
The primary interviews were five minutes. Five minutes to show the application committee that she had what it took to become a princess.
"I didn't know how I was going to get everything out in five minutes," Boneta said.
This interview required Boneta to think precisely and concisely. Carefully selecting out each word showed the selection committee her personality, values and her leadership.
Boneta's second interview was on Zoom with two or three of the board members. She recounts nervousness she felt all throughout her body as she joined the Zoom call,
"They are the ones who make all the decisions,” she said. “I had to talk to them about my life and hopefully impress them."
With her second interview complete, she was told she would receive answers within the week. The following Monday, she refreshed her email again and again. In the early morning hours of the following Tuesday, she woke up to an email sitting in her mailbox anxiously awaiting to be opened.
She was scared of what the answer would be and did not want to open the email. She eventually grew the courage to make the life changing click.
"I got the email, and I was shocked,” Boneta said. “I really didn't think it would go this far, and I am really excited."
Laura Bliss, vice president of operations with The Indy 500 Festival, said Boneta is highly involved in many organizations.
“She is definitely somebody who people look up to and who is a great example of that communication, leadership, professionalism, and she's a role model for kids,” Bliss said. “She just is a really great example of the program."
Community service has always been a part of Boneta's life, even since she was a kid.
"As I got older, I started to see the impact that was being made and the gratitude that comes from the people you are helping, and that really shifted the way I thought about serving people."
She went on to say the princess program gave her a pathway to serve her community better.
Leading up to May, as Indy 500 royalty, Boneta spent her time reaching out to schools and small businesses within her community. During her outreaches, she educates people about the mission of the 500 Festival and encourages them to attend the 500 Festival. As May begins, she will be able to attend more events like “Breakfast at the Brickyard,” the qualifying races, the festival and the race itself.
In addition, Boneta received the opportunity to participate in the 500 Festival Leadership Development Program, a series of workshops and lectures where she will be able to learn valuable leadership and communication skills from successful women in Indiana.
"I really like that there are a lot of women because I feel like women don't get enough representation,” Boneta said. “I really like how the princess program has given women a position of power to speak about their careers and how they got to where they are."
To Boneta, the main mission of the Indy 500 as a whole is to "provide life enriching community programs for people in the state of Indiana.”
She wants to reach out to people who don’t know about the Indy 500 or haven’t experienced the festival.
“[I] encourage them to share in that sense of community and participate in that because it is a huge part of being a Hoosier."
Through the 500 Festival Princess Program, Savannah gets to embrace the Hoosier community while simultaneously developing her communication and leadership skills, professionalism and enriching her community.