Royalty Coronation: Ziems and Afzal take the crown this Viking Days

Students chose seniors Taha Afzal and Becca Ziems as their 2021 homecoming royals, crowned at Monday night’s coronation ceremony.

Afzal and Ziems were chosen from a court of 11 seniors: Jason Becker, Brayden Harris, Noah Hovorka, Sheldon Jensen, Alexa Lammers, Kyja Norris, Amara Rodis, Ted Van Alstyne and John Walker. 

Ziems, a Spanish and all-grades education double major, said she was shocked to win but that she’s appreciative of the community she’s been a part of and the friends she has made.

“It stands for how meaningful it is to prioritize relationships in this phase of life,” Ziems said. “I’m just thankful for all the people I’ve met and all the support.”

Afzal, a computer science/software engineering and data science double major, said it was overwhelming but an honor nonetheless. He also said it was surprising, as he has not attended many Viking Days festivities in past years.

“I was not really expecting it,” Afzal said. “People I’ve met but didn’t keep in touch with still voted for me, so that’s  also humbling.”

As the first students to be given the gender-inclusive title of royals rather than the gender-specific labels of king and queen, both Afzal and Ziems said they were honored to be the first under the modern titles.

“I’m proud of [Viking Days] for finally taking the step to setting it up that way,” Ziems said. “It just makes it that much more meaningful.”

“It’s long overdue,” Afzal said. “I’m glad that it happened.”

Before the coronation itself, students, parents, faculty and alumni were treated to a catered dinner and a performance by the Northlanders Jazz Band. Dean of Students Mark Blackburn opened the ceremony with a speech about what it means to be a Viking.

Additionally, last year’s crowned royals — Layne Symington and Audrey Cope — were recognized during the ceremony. While Symington returned to give a speech, Cope, who lives in Washington, D.C., couldn’t make it and had Viking Days co-chair Camryn Simmons deliver her speech.

Afzal and Ziems both said they’re looking forward to the rest of the week’s festivities.

Since coronation on Monday, Viking Days has held more events, such as a service event packing Kids Against Hunger meals in the Back Alley and an illusionist. Additionally, student organizations built their floats on Thursday for the parade.

On Saturday, staples of Viking Days that were canceled last year due to COVID-19 will return.

At 10:30 a.m., the university community will gather west of campus along Grange Avenue to watch and participate in the parade. Viking Days co-chair Jessica Kratz said about 30 student organizations have a spot in the parade, with smaller groups participating at a higher rate than normal.

For the first time, Sioux Falls businesses will also be able to participate in the parade. Student-frequented businesses Sunny’s Pizzeria and Juice Stop both have floats in the parade.

Taking outside groups into account, Simmons said there’s around 60 units in the parade.

After the parade, Students Keeping Ole’s Legacy (SKOL) will host a tailgate outside of Kirkeby-Over Stadium, where community members can enjoy food and games. Then, the Vikings will kickoff the homecoming football game against the Upper Iowa University Peacocks at 1 p.m.

Ziems and Afzal said they’re excited that the main events — the parade and homecoming game — are back for students to enjoy, especially for freshmen and sophomores that haven’t had the opportunity to experience them.

“It’s really exciting to see the traditions come back full force,” Ziems said.

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