From left to right : Valerie Tran, Hayley Benson and Mahshad Taheri
From left to right : Valerie Tran, Hayley Benson and Mahshad Taheri
It’s Kentucky Derby time in Louisville, and that means it is Kentucky Derby Festival season.
This year, three University of Louisville students — Hayley Benson, Mahshad Taheri and Valerie Tran — are on the Derby Festival Royal Court, a group that welcomes visitors from all around the world to the city and state at dozens of events. They are joined by two University of Kentucky students.
Additionally, Taheri, 21, a senior finance major in the College of Business, was crowned Derby Festival Queen at the 64th annual Fillies Derby Ball on April 15. 
In addition to tiaras (and in Taheri’s case, a crown and robe), an awesome wardrobe and front-row seats to the balls, parades and other events surrounding the Derby, the princesses each won a $2,000 college scholarship. 
Benson, 21, of Louisville, is a junior biology major on the pre-medical track in the College of Arts & Sciences. 
Tran, 22, of Louisville, is a senior industrial engineering major in the J.B. Speed School of Engineering. Read more about her story here.
Candidates for the Princess Program must maintain a minimum 3.0 grade-point average and are selected by a panel of three out-of-state judges. There were more than 100 applicants this year.
Criteria for selection includes knowledge of the Derby Festival, poise, intelligence, personality and campus and community involvement.
The first Derby Festival Princess was crowned in 1957, the second year of the Festival. Previous princesses have included former Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins and the late Gail Gorski, the first female pilot hired by United Airlines.