by Kayla Vasilko

My entire experience with the 500 Festival Princess Program has been centered around the theme of going the extra mile. Even before I joined the program, I always strove to be innovative, get involved in the community, and create new initiatives whenever I saw a need. But at various points during those times, I faced criticism about being too creative or involved, and for believing that kindness really had the power to facilitate positive change. It was discouraging; though believing in yourself can propel you very far, I also feel belief from those around you is instrumental in giving you that extra, super-charged boost to go all the way. But when I joined the Princess Program, things were different. For me, every aspect of the 500 Festival has been a gift of super-charged outside support. 


The Panel Discussions that the Program offers have been especially encouraging. One of the discussions that stood out most to me was the session with Purdue University Brand Content Principal Ali McNichols. I greatly enjoyed hearing about Ali’s experiences in Communications and Marketing for Purdue University, Matchbook, and Borshoff. She did an incredible job elaborating on what those experiences were like, and then translating them into general tips about professional techniques in the workplace, specifically focused on how to run a meeting well. I found her insight invaluable, and applicable to every professional endeavor I was engaged in. 


In respect to my presidency of multiple organizations, Ali’s notes about defining your stance as a role model and facilitating respect as a female leader gave me the confidence I needed to finish up my meetings and initiatives strong. Because of her advice, my teams and I were able to do groundbreaking work in the community and accomplish even more than we set out to at the beginning of the academic year. 


During the session, Ali gave us [the Princesses] the incredible advice to assume positive intent in the workplace. In other words, she reminded us that misconceptions can occur commonly; no matter what, it’s important to approach a problem with the belief that others had good intentions with their actions until you’re able to hear the full story. After witnessing many instances where rash conclusions led to avoidable friction and project delays, it was refreshing to hear Ali advocate for keeping an open mind. I’ve been a part of many leadership trainings where conflict resolution methods were presented. In this case, it was great to learn how to prevent conflict before it begins. 



Ali also shared about her work in government with the Indiana House of Representatives and the Indiana Lieutenant Governor’s Office, as well as her work with Laura Bliss and The Junior League of Indianapolis. As I listened to her accounts, I was beyond inspired by the impact she was able to make with initiatives centered around building up others, promoting volunteer work, and going above what is expected of you to make a difference in the community. For me, Ali was sparkling proof that I could make a living doing the positive community engagement work that I already loved. I could only hope to approach my own initiatives with the same level of grace and professionalism. 


After her presentation, Ali opened the floor to questions, and I was once again surprised and awed. Many of the Princess on the Zoom call had questions, myself included; after each woman voiced her question or comment, several of the other women commented in the chat about what a great point the Princess had made. Even though it was a virtual setting, the environment was extremely welcoming and supportive. Such a setting is too seldomly found outside the Program.

Around the time of the session, I was approaching graduation from my undergraduate program and trying to decide on the next steps. It was after this discussion that I decided to pursue a Master’s in Communications. I’ve now been accepted into Communications programs at multiple universities and offered a teaching position in Communications at Purdue University Northwest. I feel it was the Princess Program that helped me define my path so that I could continue to propel myself the extra mile.