LEHI, Utah (ABC4) – What started as an odd morning for Maria Rodriguez, who noticed her family “acting strange,” will now kick off a year’s worth of memories and fun for the rodeo-loving friend to many.
When Rodriguez was called into a room at Lehi High School filled with friends and family waiting for her, she didn’t know what to expect.
What followed was one of the biggest thrills of her 19-year-old life as she was crowned this year’s Honorary Miss Lehi on Friday morning.
“I was so excited. I was a little bit confused, I didn’t know what was happening, but so happy,” Rodriguez tells ABC4.
As part of her official duties, Rodriguez will work with the other Miss Lehi winners, runners-up, and honorary winners, making appearances and boosting their platforms to improve the local community near the point of the mountain.
A big fan of horse-riding and all things cowboy and cowgirl-related, Rodriguez is looking forward to the appearance at the Miss Lehi Round Up Rodeo the most.
Living with a condition that affects her memory and other cognitive functions, Rodriguez was selected by the Miss Lehi committee from the special education program. Each year, the committee crowns one girl each from Lehi High School and Skyridge High School. The winner from Skyridge will be named on Tuesday.
Her mother, who is also named Maria, says it was a special moment with the whole family present to see little Maria receive an honor she has been dreaming of for years.
“It means a lot because it was one of those things that she’s been looking forward to since she was little,” Mrs. Rodriguez says to ABC4. “We’re so happy for her. Our whole family, me, her dad, everyone, was so, so happy for her.”
Lindsey Larsen, who was named Miss Lehi in 2019 and will continue holding the title for 2021, was elated to see Rodriguez receive her crown. She considers Rodriguez to be a role model to her family, friends, and classmates.
“She’s so kind to everybody around her. I can tell she just has such a funny sense of humor and she’s just a fun person to be around. And I think people are just naturally attracted to her and she’s just very approachable and very kind to everybody she meets,” Larsen says.
In its 17th year of existence, the Miss Lehi program annually takes the opportunity to not only honor an outstanding young woman in the tight-knit community, but also give someone with special needs or differing abilities a chance to feel like a princess.
Larsen says the latter is a vital part of the program.
“I think that having that inclusion and that representation is so important. I’ve been able to work with four honorees as I’ve done Miss Lehi, and they tell me that this experience means so much to them. It’s truly life-changing and it’s something that they will always remember,” she says.
Having seen Larsen, who will compete for Miss Utah in June, around the school for dance classes, Rodriguez is excited to work with her over the next year.
“I’m proud of myself and I’m excited,” she says with audible happiness.