6 Questions With Miss Florida Citrus 2020
By Paul Rusnak | August 1, 2020
Just in case you missed it, the 2020 Miss Florida Citrus Pageant successfully carried on its long tradition — but in a whole new way (thanks to COVID-19). The first virtual running of the Miss America preliminary event in the Sunshine State took place via Zoom. Through the unique format, a new titleholder was chosen among a pool of talented contestants to represent Florida’s citrus industry. Meet Leila Sabet, Miss Florida Citrus 2020.
Before the 24-year-old from Ponte Vedra Beach got off and running with her new duties, she took time to answer a few questions.
What inspired you to compete in the Miss Florida Citrus Pageant?
Sabet: Brenda Eubanks Burnette (the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Executive Director and former Florida Citrus Queen) is well known in the Miss Florida organization for making the year of service for her titleholders unique and value-added. She also is invested in her titleholder’s personal success. There is a rich history behind the Miss Florida Citrus Pageant going back to 1924, and I am immensely proud to be part of it.
How do you plan to connect with and represent the citrus industry amid the challenges posed by COVID-19?
Sabet: Fortunately, we have technology to utilize as a resource to connect during these social- distancing times. I had the chance to check out a webinar with the current and past Citrus Achievement Award winners, virtual seminars are coming up, and a Family Fun Shoot has been scheduled for early September. I hope we will return to the industry activities we previously enjoyed. Meanwhile, I plan to visit a few farms that I am familiar with, as well as get creative with educational content on social media. Florida’s Natural Growers CEO Bob Behr mentioned that the years there were federal campaigns promoting oranges, orange juice sales were at their highest. So, my ability to connect to both the citrus industry and the general public through my social media skills allows me to promote the importance of a healthy lifestyle of citrus, fruits, and vegetables.
What’s one thing you’re hoping to accomplish in the next year?
Sabet: I am really excited to be kicking off an Agriculture and Nutrition Education Program to be presented in schools throughout the state. We need to bring agriculture education to schools so future generations can learn the challenges of meeting the world’s food needs and how to become a part of it. If we can create awareness about emerging agriculture technologies that are combining the art and science of farming, we can show young people there is so much more to agriculture than they may think.
What are you most looking forward to learning during your reign?
Sabet: I am an advocate for women’s voices being included in rooms where their voices will have influence because I believe — and research has proven — that diversity is the key to corporate economic sustainability. With only about 14% of the nation’s farmers being women, I want to learn more about the business aspects of agriculture to educate others who may own a unique skill set and have interest, but not have awareness about the industry. Especially with the growing importance of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, the fact that agricultural technology is having quite an impact within the industry, there is now a need for individuals with skill sets that agriculture hasn’t had a need for before.
What is your pageant platform?
Sabet: My platform is Lift & Be Uplifted: Increasing Women’s Influence in the Professional World. I want to make the world better by making workplaces better. Founded on support and empowerment, I have created a community of mentorship by spotlighting successful women of influence to share their stories of resilience and to stand as role models for young women through the Inspiring Women Blog featured on my website (leilasabet.com).
Can you tell us something about yourself that others might not know?
Sabet: I am a first-generation American. My father immigrated to America from Iran. As you can imagine, post 9/11, public perceptions of Middle Eastern people have not always been positive. To challenge this, I want to give assumptions and biases surrounding Middle Eastern people a third dimension, as a form of cultural diplomacy. I plan to perform an act of radical beauty by performing a traditional Persian dance on the Miss Florida stage.
Leila Sabet Crowned Miss Florida Citrus After Virtual Pageant
By MARY TOOTHMAN
When Leila Sabet of Ponte Vedra Beach was crowned Miss Florida Citrus on June 13, you could have heard a pin drop. There was no large audience on hand to applaud or hoot and holler. The spectators for this pageant, you see, were virtual.
Judges sat at a large conference table in another location and viewed contestants on a computer screen. As for Miss Florida Citrus 2020? She was in her garage.
Miss Florida Citrus Pageant Executive Director Brenda Eubanks Burnette says it was quite a unique experience.
“Due to COVID-19, the country closed down just two weeks prior to when this year’s pageant was scheduled to take place. And so it was delayed and rescheduled as a virtual event.”
It remained a very different experience as organizers worked to set up the pageant in the midst of COVID-19 with all the required social distancing measures.
Candidates signed into a Zoom virtual conference from the boardroom of SVN Saunders, Ralston, Dantzler Real Estate in Lakeland. Candidates signed in throughout the day to compete in various stages of competition, which included their personal interview on-stage question, talent and red carpet — social impact statement.
The virtual pageant involved numerous online practices for the candidates to accustom them to interviewing and performing individually in front of their laptops or cellphones.
Sabet, 24, who graduated cum laude from Florida State University in 2019, says competing on a screen instead of a stage was quite different.
“It was so quiet! To win a pageant without an audience — in my garage— was hilarious.”
She was inspired by Burnette to enter the pageant. “She has made a career out of her pageant experience. She has invested in the industry, and she cares about the development of her titleholders.”
It has been worth the effort, and then some, she says.
“The Miss America organization changed my life. I competed for my first pageant in high school as a dare, with my friends on the dance team.”
And she figured once she began her career, she would be finished with pageants. “I didn’t think competing in the Miss America Organization again would be in the cards for me. I thought I had purpose before starting my career, but once I became neck-deep in a male-dominated industry, I recognized the great need there is to prepare women and increase their influence in the workforce.”
She realized she had something to say. “I remember calling my mom at 5 a.m. when I got off work — I was on night shift at the time — when I had a realization that I needed to be an advocate. I told her, ‘I’m competing again. I need to tell my story.’”
She says she was surprisingly calm throughout the competition. “The moment my name as the winner was announced had a great deal of significance to me. Winning the title of Miss Florida Citrus was the golden ticket for me to be able to go after my dream.
“Strangely enough, I was completely at peace. I knew I had spoken authentically with the judges in my private interview. I explained to them my motivation and mission to empower young women, and I know they saw the appreciation I have for the growth and confidence I have acquired.”
It was not her first pageant, but it was special. “I have competed in many pageants in my lifetime, but for some reason, when my name was announced as Miss Florida Citrus, it felt different,” she says. “Maybe because it was through a screen, maybe because that was my very last chance to compete in the organization — I am aging out after this year — but it was almost as if the stars were aligning.”
Through competing virtually, she says, she learned the importance of energy. “Connecting with people is a skill that every Miss Florida — Miss America must have, and I was challenged through this experience to ensure that I can connect emotionally with the judges from a two-dimensional standpoint.
“I was confidently able to navigate this to ensure that I was able to show them my authenticity. Through educating myself about Florida Citrus, I have learned the importance of agriculture as our nation relies on Florida to provide the oranges for 90 percent of our favorite beverage — orange juice — and that we must protect and appreciate the resources our state offers each of our communities.”
It is a position that calls for a lot of activities. As Miss Florida Citrus 2020, she will have opportunities to attend the Southwest Citrus Expo, the Citrus Grower’s Annual Gala, be involved in City Commission introduction meetings, crop forecast conferences and skeet shooting with the citrus growers.
“It’s a full schedule of interesting events and exposure to unique activities,” she says. “I will also be piloting an Agriculture & Nutrition Program for students with the Nutrients for Life Foundation, alongside Miss Florida 2019, Michaela McLean, who was actually Miss Florida Citrus 2019 when she won the state title.
“Through this program, we will be able to reach hundreds of thousands of students across the state and educate them on the nutrition benefits of Florida’s finest fruit: oranges. In addition, I will represent the citrus industry as Miss Florida Citrus on the Miss Florida stage in June 2021.”
People have been wonderful to her, she says. “So far, all of the people involved in citrus that I have met share the same supportive philosophy. I am beyond grateful to have the strong male and female mentors that I have in my career because they have been the ones to remind me that my voice has value.”
It’s not just a pageant about beauty, either. “Through competing, I have earned thousands in academic scholarships, I have the public speaking skills and confidence to lead hundreds of associates at work, I am able to represent Middle Eastern-Americans by using traditional Persian dancing as a form of cultural diplomacy, and I have the best platform I could hope for to advocate for women’s influence in the professional world.”
‘I competed virtually’ Tampa woman wins Miss America preliminary pageant over Zoom
by: Sarafina Brooks
Posted: Jun 26, 2020 / 08:06 PM EDT / Updated: Jun 26, 2020 / 08:06 PM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The coronavirus pandemic has forced people to become creative and rely heavily on digital platforms like Zoom.
So, it was no surprise when 24-year-old Tampa resident, Leila Sabet, found herself competing in the first-ever, virtual Miss America preliminary pageant in Florida.
“I competed virtually through Zoom for Miss Florida Citrus 2020 on June 13,” Sabet said. “I did have to use my garage for that space. It was so interesting. Preparing virtually for this looked a lot different than how I usually prepare for a local pageant. So, this time it was less about my spacing on a stage and more about how I was going to space myself through a screen from a two-dimensional standpoint.”
Sabet competed in various stages including presenting her social impact initiative, Lift & Be Uplifted: Increasing Women’s Influence in the Professional World and her on-stage talent, traditional Persian dancing.
“As far as my personal social impact initiative goes, my organization is called Lift & Be Uplifted: Increasing Women’s Influence in the Professional World. So, I work in a male dominant field for the number one fastest-growing company in the world. So, I see the direct effects of how influential women’s voices can be from that leadership standpoint. And I’m traditional Persian dancer. So, I’ve been able to represent not only young females in the professional world but also Middle Eastern Americans,” said Sabet.
Sabet, a manager in operations for an Amazon fulfillment center in Tampa, ultimately went on to win Miss Florida Citrus 2020. She was virtually announced the winner with her family by her side.
“It was definitely quiet, especially when they announced my name. Usually, there’s an audience. So, I had my sister and my mom and my dad, and they were kind of like, ‘go Leila!’” Sabet said.
Next June, the Florida State University graduate, and Real Talk Ambassador will compete in the Miss Florida Pageant, the preliminary pageant to Miss America. But first, Sabet tells WFLA.com, she has big plans as Miss Florida Citrus 2020.
“I will represent the citrus industry of Florida,” said Sabet. “I’ll actually be piloting a program with the Nutrients for Life Organization throughout the state of Florida with the current Miss Florida, Michaela McLean, who’s a good friend of mine. We will partner this year to go into schools and hopefully reach hundreds of thousands of students and educate them on the nutrients that orange juice can provide.”
To learn more about Leila Sabet and to follow her journey, visit her on social media.
Miss Florida Citrus 2020 Is Crowned
June 22, 2020 / Awards
Leila Sabet, Miss Florida Citrus 2020
Leila Sabet, 24, of Ponte Vedra Beach was crowned Miss Florida Citrus June 13 in the very first virtual Miss America preliminary pageant in Florida.
Due to COVID-19, “the country closed down just two weeks prior to when this year’s pageant was scheduled to take place” so it was delayed and rescheduled as a virtual event, said Miss Florida Citrus Pageant Executive Director Brenda Eubanks Burnette.
“With the help of Todd Dantzler and Jonathan Barreras of SVN Saunders, Ralston, Dantzler Real Estate in Lakeland, a plan was mapped out to use their boardroom and Zoom conference capability to create a virtual judging center that each candidate could sign into for their various stages of competition,” explained Burnette.
Burnette (center) met with Goldman (left) and Sabet (right) after the virtual pageant to deliver the crowns, banners and prizes to the winning contestants.
Pageant candidates had several stages of competition — personal interview, on-stage question, talent and red carpet/social impact statement. Burnette said the 17 contestants were the most in the six years she’s been running the event.
Sabet is a manager in operations for Amazon Fulfillment in Tampa. She graduated cum laude from Florida State University in 2019 with a bachelor of science in psychology and a certificate in advanced leadership studies. She plans to pursue an MBA degree.
Michaela McLean, Miss Florida 2019; Ann Daniel Adams, 1954 Florida Citrus Queen; Cassidy Goldman, Miss Winter Haven 2020; and Leila Sabet, Miss Florida Citrus 2020
During the combined Miss Florida Citrus/Miss Winter Haven pageant, Cassidy Goldman of Jacksonville was selected as the new Miss Winter Haven. She is a 20-year-old senior at the University of North Florida, where she is pursuing a bachelor of science in multimedia journalism.
Sabet and Goldman will both compete in the Miss Florida pageant, which will take place in Lakeland in June 2021. The winner of the Miss Florida pageant will compete in the Miss America pageant.
First, second and third runners-up in the pageant were Sarah Sarver, Bethany Worley and Gracie Dyer, respectively. The two winners and three runners-up won a total of more than $3,000 in cash and prizes.
The Miss Florida Citrus pageant has its root in the Florida Citrus Queen pageant, first held in 1924. Burnette said she and some other past pageant winners agree that the year following their pageant wins “was one of the best years of our lives and one that impacted our future for years to come.”
Visit www.MissFloridaCitrus.net to see all of the candidates and the video from the pageant.
For more information or to schedule a Miss Florida Citrus appearance, contact Burnette at 561-351-4314 or MFCitrus81@gmail.com.
Source: Brenda Eubanks Burnette
New Miss Florida Citrus Winner Zooms to Stardom
Posted by Paul Rusnak | June 22, 2020
In this day and age of coronavirus, almost everything is taking place virtually. Add to that list the long-running, tradition-rich Miss Florida Citrus Pageant. The very first virtual running of the Miss America preliminary event in the Sunshine State took place via Zoom and saw Leila Sabet of Ponte Vedra Beach earn the title of Miss Florida Citrus 2020. Runner-up Cassidy Goldman of Jacksonville was crowned the new Miss Winter Haven.
Both titleholders will now go on to compete in the Miss Florida Pageant, the winner of which will compete in the Miss America Pageant. Both pageants were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and exact dates have yet to be announced.
Miss Florida Citrus 2020 candidates participated in various stages of competition, which included their Personal Interview, On-Stage Question, Talent and Red Carpet/Social Impact Statement — all from their laptops or phone.
The top five finalists won more than $3,000 in cash and prizes.
Sabet, who is sponsored by Intense Ink Graphics, graduated Cum Laude from Florida State University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Certificate in Advanced Leadership Studies. She plans to pursue an MBA degree and become a Senior Executive for a Fortune 500 Company.
She is currently a Manager in Operations for Amazon Fulfillment in Tampa. Her social impact statement is “Lift & Be Uplifted: Increasing Women’s Influence in the Professional World.” For her talent, she performed a Persian dance to the song, “Golzar” by Bijan Mortazavi.
Sponsored by Florida’s Natural, Goldman is a Senior at the University of North Florida, where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Multimedia Journalism and plans to be a creative entrepreneur. Her social impact statement is “#BreakTheCycle: Human Trafficking Awareness.” She has held several leadership roles and earned numerous awards for her talent. She performed an opera vocal called “Mein Herr Marquis” from “The Magic Flute” as her talent in the pageant.
The new titleholders attended a luncheon last week where they were greeted by Winter Haven Mayor Brad Dantzler, Miss Florida 2019 Michaela McLean, 1954 Florida Citrus Queen Ann Daniel Adams, Kelly Bailey, Pageant Coordinator, and Brenda Eubanks Burnette, Executive Director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame and past Florida Citrus Queen.
The Florida Citrus Queen Pageant began in 1924 and has been part of the Miss America Organization off and on throughout the years, with the name changing to Miss Florida Citrus in 1984.
First Miss Florida preliminary winners