Sher’Niah Freeman Crowned 70th St. John Celebration Queen

Sher’Niah Freeman channels Cuban singer Celia Cruz during the “International Wear” segment. (Photo courtesy Division of Festivals)

Sher’Niah Freeman, a University of the Virgin Islands sophomore, emerged victorious Saturday after a captivating display of talent and cultural pride at the 70th Annual St. John Celebration pageant. Held at the transformed Bureau of Motor Vehicles parking lot, the competition saw Freeman face off against J’Naiya Squiabro, a recent Ivanna Eudora Kean High School graduate and soon-to-be U.S. Army soldier.

Squiabro confidently declared herself “the chosen one” during introductions, while Freeman countered with an aura of royalty, proclaiming she possessed “the undeniable essence of a queen,” setting the tone for an evening buzzing with anticipation.

While the swimsuit segment showcased the contestants’ poise, the true spectacle lay in international wear, starting with Squiabro’s tribute to the rich culture and traditions of Guatemala. Her elaborate costume featured a wide, sculpted backpiece that resembled the country’s National Palace of Culture and Museum of Archaeology. The vibrant yellow fabric of her flowing skirt, hand-painted with intricate designs, transformed into a sleek sequined outfit for her energetic dance performance. Even traditional instruments like the marimba and drums were incorporated into her routine, culminating in a fiery “Mayan volcano dance” finale in a red fringed bodysuit.

J’Naiya Squiabro shows off the Guatemalan culture during the “International Wear” segment. (Photo courtesy Division of Festivals)

Meanwhile, Freeman’s vibrant tribute paid homage to the legendary Cuban singer Celia Cruz. She channeled Cruz’s iconic style with a bright orange wig, dazzling sunglasses, and a flowing yellow-orange ombre duster before captivating the audience with a performance of “A Negra Tiene Tumbao.” The performance evolved into a powerful historical portrayal, depicting the journey of Afro-Cubans like Cruz. Through costume changes, Freeman showcased their music and traditions. A minor wardrobe malfunction couldn’t faze her, and she closed the segment with a dazzling salsa performance in a sequined ball gown that mirrored the colors of the Cuban flag.

The elegance continued into the evening wear segment, with Squiabro selecting a regal purple gown adorned with crystals, while Freeman chose a white, flowing gown that shimmered with sequins. The night concluded with a thought-provoking question about supporting the mental well-being of young Virgin Islanders. Squiabro proposed a dedicated clinic for young people, while Freeman advocated for educational programs within schools.

Freeman’s captivating performance and well-rounded presentation resonated with the judges, securing her the coveted crown, along with Miss Intellect, Best Evening Wear and Miss Photogenic. Squiabro, who took second place, also won Miss Congeniality.