A 2010 Burnsville High School graduate is one of five sophomore women at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter who will vie to be crowned St. Lucia this week.
Jennifer Werness, a sophomore majoring in biology and business management, was chosen by a campuswide vote last week as a member of the Lucia Court, part of the college’s 71st annual Festival of St. Lucia.
Werness, the daughter of Spencer and Pixie Werness of Burnsville, says she was taken completely by surprise when she learned of her selection to the court.
“I called my mom and cried,” she says. “I was so blown away. This is completely humbling.
“Gustavus is not a big school, but to be one of the top five nominees is pretty amazing.”
Werness and the four other members of the St. Lucia Court will sing carols in the college’s residence halls early this morning before one of them is crowned St. Lucia. Campuswide voting for the St. Lucia honor took place Monday and Tuesday.
The college’s Festival of St. Lucia is a Swedish custom that kicks off the Christmas season, traditionally held on Dec. 13. On St. Lucia Day in Sweden, a family’s oldest daughter plays the role of St. Lucia by preparing and serving baked goods and coffee to her family at sunrise.
St. Lucia, who wears a crown of lighted candles, represents the return of light that will end long winter nights and serves as a symbol of hope and peace for the Christmas season.
The St. Lucia court selection at Gustavus begins when every sophomore woman receives a list of all the sophomore women. The women vote for five, and the five who get the most votes are named to the court.
“They came to my door after the deadline [this year] and they handed me a rose and told me I was one of the five nominees,” Werness says.
The women chosen for this year’s court were selected based on “courageous leadership, strength of character, service to others and compassion,” according to the college.
“When I found out, I was like, really? People recognize that about me?” Werness says with a laugh.
When she called her mother and told her, “she was so thrilled and so happy,” Werness says. “She’s seen me kind of blossom since coming to college. She was ecstatic that all this stuff I’m doing, people recognize. She was really proud.”
Werness serves as a collegiate fellow – known at other colleges and universities as a resident assistant – in a freshman women’s dorm at Gustavus, and she’s been a leader in the campus Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter for the last two years.
“There’s nobody I don’t like,” she says. “I do genuinely care for other people.
“My friends joke around and say I know everyone at Gustavus because I’m a social butterfly. I think that has a lot to do with it. I make sure I call people by name, say hi and ask how they’re doing. That’s just how I am.”