On April 7, dozens of young men will walk across the stage inside the Sturges Center for the Arts in downtown to participate in the San Bernardino High School Mr. Cardinal pageant.
There will be only one crowned champion, but to pageant coordinator and founder Jamie Rios, every student participant is a winner. And this year, the students are using the event as a way to shed light around the #NeverAgain movement.
Rios confirmed late Tuesday that the 15th edition of the Mr. Cardinal pageant will be dedicated to the victims and survivors of the Douglas Stoneman High School mass shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.
Many on campus felt it was only right, explained Rios.
“This could happen to anyone,” he said during a phone call on Tuesday. “We have to be there to support others in need at the time. We’re not going to stand for this anymore.”
At first glance the pageant may appear as another high school “popularity” contest, but to those who are participating, it’s an experience that’s helping shape their perspective on community service.
“This is an awesome group of diverse kids,” said Rios. “It’s just really amazing how these kids get along, no matter where they come from.”
Many of the participants demonstrate high achievement in the classroom and participate in extracurricular activities on campus. While Mr. Cardinal is a huge responsibility, it’s also a great learning experience, explained one contestant.
“We’re able to help people hands on,” said Alfonso Sanchez, 16, who also plays trumpet for the school’s marching band. “It’s made me realize that community service does make a difference.”
Rios said the program has helped establish community leaders. Contestants learn the essentials of etiquette and importance of professionalism and mentorship. They will be required to participate in a formal wear competition and answer questions about community service and social issues.
“We’re going above and beyond and letting them know that we are in solidarity,” said Rios.
Alonso Martinez, 16, is confident he could serve as a great ambassador for San Bernardino High School students and community residents. He wants people to depend on him and be able to ask questions on any issue.
“It’s the idea of someone wanting to help the community,” explained Martinez about Mr. Cardinal’s responsibilities. “Someone who has an open heart and people look up to.”
Mr. Cardinal also helps empower participants that may be looking to develop strong interpersonal skills. Junior Daniel Villegas, 17, enjoys learning from other contestants, who he considers as “funny, loyal, and funny” companions.
“I was quiet and a bit shy,” said Villegas. “But then Jamie helped me to open up. And since then I’ve been able to communicate better with others.”
Sanchez also said he admires Rios for his mentorship.
“I think Jamie cares a lot about us,” he said. “He’s always pushing us and getting the best of our ability. It’s taught us to maximize the experience of our community service.”
The pageant will begin at 6:00 p.m. Doors and Red Carpet event will start at 5:00 p.m.