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 Tuesday, July 13, 2004 | Updated at 1:00 a.m.
UF grad wins Miss Florida


Alligator Contributing Writer

A recent UF graduate captured the title of Miss Florida USA on Saturday night, qualifying her for the Miss USA pageant in January 2005.

Melissa Witek, Miss Florida Gator 2002 and a 2003 graduate from the College of Journalism and Communications, became the third consecutive Gator to win the state title.

Carrie Mewha won the title for 2003 and Kristen Berset, the 2004 titleholder, crowned Witek for 2005.

The 23-year-old qualified for the pageant after winning Miss Florida Panhandle USA 2005 in January, which she said provided her with a complete pageant wardrobe, amazing opportunities and a wonderful team to prepare her for the state pageant.

“I couldn’t have done this alone,” Witek said. “Every person I worked with and every experience I had helped me get another step closer to accomplishing this goal.”

Witek said she didn’t plan on competing in the pageant until she was eliminated from “The Bachelor.”

Witek was chosen as a semi-finalist for the show but was eliminated before taping began because of the possibility of her knowing former UF football star Jesse Palmer, the reality show’s leading man.

“I was devastated after I found out only a week before the show that I had been cut,” she said. “I had to find something else to focus on, so I went back to the pageant system.”

As Miss Florida USA, Witek’s responsibilities include several dozen appearances across Florida, as well as the nation, to promote Witek’s chosen philanthropy, ovarian cancer awareness.

Her predecessor, Berset, raised more than $100,000 for breast cancer awareness and research.

Witek’s prize package included a fully furnished apartment in Hollywood for six months, a custom-designed wardrobe, a full-time personal trainer, an acting and interview coach and gift certificates for shoes, jewelry and salon services, said Grant Gravitt Jr., the executive director of the pageant.

“This is unbelievable,” Witek said. “Not only do I get to represent Florida at Miss USA, but I have been provided with the opportunity to enhance myself and make contacts with people I would never have been able to before.”

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