Festivities kicked off Saturday for the 75th annual Santa Maria Elks Rodeo and Parade in June with the announcement of the 2018 Rodeo Queen candidates.
Held at the Santa Maria Elks Lodge, the Rodeo Queen Kickoff Dinner and Auction is a longtime tradition connected with the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo. The Queen Contest has raised and distributed over $11.7 million to local communities since it was established.
This year's candidates are Carolina Lemus, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Guadalupe; Hannah MacLean, sponsored by the Orcutt Youth Soccer League; Makana Mahelona, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Maria; Kate Compton, sponsored by VTC Enterprises; and Seyenna Alysia Cavazos, sponsored by Northern Santa Barbara County United Way.
Carolina Lemus, a 16-year-old junior at Righetti High School, is the daughter of Abraham and Erika Lemus. She also has an older brother, Abraham, and younger sister, Lizeth.
Since her freshman year, Lemus has been involved in many campus activities. She's currently the Latinos Unidos president, Future Farmers of America reporter and AVID secretary.
Born in Santa Maria and raised in Guadalupe, Lemus said she hopes to make a difference in the lives of people in the community as well as others.
"I feel so proud to be a candidate," she said. "Most girls don't get a chance to give back to their community, so I'm so honored to have that opportunity to raise money for great organizations."
After high school, Lemus plans to attend Cal Poly and major in agricultural business.
Hannah MacLean, 17, a senior at Orcutt Academy High School, is daughter of Jon and Melinda MacLean and granddaughter of Berto and Betty Van Veen. She calls the entire group her "biggest supporters."
An avid soccer player and student athlete, MacLean said she has learned so many life lessons about "responsibility, teamwork, time management, determination and so much more."
Soccer led her to fall in love with another sport: She's also a member of her school's track team.
MacLean said she "never let sports overtake school." In fact, she has been named a scholar-athlete for three of her track seasons, two of which she served as the team captain.
In addition to sports, MacLean has also been a member of the Bonita 4-H Club for the past eight years. She has served on the executive board, as treasurer, and is currently vice president.
After high school, MacLean hopes to attend a four-year university, get a degree in nursing and become a registered nurse. She also hopes to earn a doctorate and one day become an emergency room surgeon.
"Meeting the other candidates is amazing because we're all going to be lifelong friends," she said. "My advice for future queens? Don't give up, and at the end of the day, we're all winners no matter what."
Righetti High School senior Makana Mahelona's family moved to Santa Maria from Hawaii 24 years ago, and although they have roots elsewhere, Mahelona said she's proud to call Santa Maria her home.
Mahelona, 18, is the daughter of Kurt and No Mahelona, and has an older brother, Kaulana, who lives in Vacaville.
She is also a varsity volleyball star at Righetti High School. During her sophomore year, she earned the recognition of tri-sport athlete, playing volleyball, water polo and swimming at the varsity level.
After high school, Mahelona hopes to attend Hancock College and then transfer to a university to major in business management and minor in early childhood development.
"I'm so ready for this, and have been ready to raise money for my sponsor organization since I found out I was a candidate," Mahelona said. "It's a lot of hard work, can be stressful but I'm grateful for the opportunity."
Nipomo High School junior Kate Compton, 16, said she has dreamed of being a rodeo queen since she was a little girl, because the rodeo has been such a huge part of her life. Every year, she rides her horse in the Elks Rodeo Parade and she has been a flag girl for the rodeo since 2016.
Compton is the daughter of Peter and Lynn Compton, who is San Luis Obispo County's 4th District supervisor. She has a twin sister, Kristin. She calls her family, VTC chairperson John Glines, VTC co-chairperson Erika Weber and the rest of the VTC Enterprises team "the major driving force behind my campaign, along with my parents."
Compton is involved in the Future Farmers of America program at her school. She hopes to attend Cal Poly, Fresno State or the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and become a veterinary pharmaceutical representative "because of my love for horses and their welfare."
"As honored as I am, I know the rodeo isn't about me, it's about the community," she said. "It's all about helping others and giving back."
Seyenna Alysia Cavazos, 18, is a senior at St. Joseph High School, where she has made her mark as a varsity cheerleader for the past three years and a varsity softball player for all four years.
"I feel honored to be standing next to the other girls," Cavazos said. "There's already a bond among us. We're not so much about competing, but rather we're all here for each other throughout the rodeo season."
She added: "It's been a lot of hard work and preparation, but it's all for a great cause. If you have heart and dedication, anyone can run for queen!"
Cavazos is the daughter of Eloy and Stephanie, and has a brother, Elijah.
When she's not busy playing sports, Cavazos enjoys volunteering and giving back to her community.
She comes from a family that has been in involved with the Elks Rodeo for four generations, including Rodeo Queen candidates -- her aunt Bonnie Sue George and cousins Leticia, Vanessa, Jasmine Rodriguez and Melissa Saucedo.
"I've attended the Elks Rodeo for many years; it's a family tradition for us," she said. "I've always dreamed of becoming a queen candidate and now my dream has become a reality."
Note: In an earlier version of this story, VTC chairpeople were identified as queen candidate Kate Compton's grandparents. This story has been updated to reflect the correction.