Alijah Caskinette crowned as the 2023 Trailblazer Queen

Alijah Caskinette, a senior history major from West Valley City, celebrating after being crowned Trailblazer Queen. Kelsa Lundstedt | Sun News Daily

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As one of the oldest annual traditions of D-Week, 23 contestants blazed the stage with confidence as they competed for the first ever Trailblazer Queen title April 4.

This year, one Trailblazer Queen, four attendants and two congeniality queens were announced at the conclusion of the Utah Tech University 2023 Trailblazer Queen pageant. The winners of the competition are as follows: 

  • Alijah Caskinette, a senior history major from West Valley City, won Trailblazer Queen.
  • Kimberly Querales, a senior psychology major from West Valley City, won first attendant.
  • Marinn Duncan, a senior criminal justice major from Draper, won second attendant. 
  • Madison Jackson, a senior individualized studies major from Prescott, Arizona, won third attendant and congeniality queen. 
  • Taela Laufiso, a senior English major from West Jordan, won fourth attendant. 
  • Evie Barfuss, a sophomore design major from St. George, won congeniality queen.

Contestants were scored based on a resume, essay, private interview, talent, evening wear and onstage question. With a diverse group of individuals providing different styles, answers, talents and personalities, each contestant worked for six weeks to prepare and showcase their abilities in each category.

“Over the course of six weeks, I got to watch students blossom into a more confident version of themselves,” said Sarah Ramaker, the competition director. “Yes, we teach them interviewing skills, how to speak in front of an audience and how to walk in a gown, but the contestants are the ones putting themselves in front of everyone to be judged.”

With the amount of preparation the contestants had to put in for the pageant, members of the Utah Tech Student Association, judges and other crew members put the same amount of preparation in for planning and carrying out the competition . 

“Pageants are a lot of work,” said Brooklyn Field, the student director and event organizer. “They are extremely detailed and have many moving parts, but seeing contestants growing and becoming the best versions of themselves made every moment of work worth it.”

Previously known as the D-Queen pageant and dating back over a century, the name change of the university allowed representatives to discuss a new, more fitting name and transition from the D-Queen title to Trailblazer Queen. Although the name may have changed, the importance of the pageant did not.

“It’s an important tradition on campus because it changes people’s lives,” Field said. “The contestants are able to learn incredible life skills that they’ll use forever, make friends with the other contestants, and create amazing bonds with each other.”

The 101th Trailblazer Queen, Caskinette, said participating in the pageant was an “incredible experience,” and she enjoyed seeing the talent that filled the stage. 

“There were just so many different arrays of talent and so many hidden gems amongst our campus community,” Caskinette said. 

Each contestant had 90 seconds to share a talent they felt best represented who they are, and these talents varied by activity. While some contestants took the performing arts approach through singing, dancing and playing instruments, others took the visual arts route by painting, drawing and arranging flowers.

On top of sharing a talent to the audience, contestants also displayed their intelligence, quick thinking abilities, public speaking skills and preparation as they answered a randomized question. 

Caskinette was asked, “Who is someone who has inspired you in life?”

The Trailblazer Queen said her friend, who passed away from Neuroblastoma, continually inspires her to be kind, brave and courageous.

Like Caskinette’s friend inspired her, Forever D-Queen Anna Barfuss, a senior recreation and sports management major from Salt Lake City, said she has been able to inspire and influence others by being D-Queen. 

Anna Barfuss said: “Advice I have for the next queen is to let that light shine. The new Trailblazer Queen was picked because they have that light and the ability to influence others, so just let it shine.”

Now that the crown has been passed on to the new Trailblazer Queen, Caskinette has plans to continue supporting and empowering her community.

Caskinette said, “I’m hoping to have a fabulous D-Week going to all the events and then continuing to just show up and serve in our community throughout the upcoming year.”