Showman Braxton Perry wins the title of Big Man on Campus

Braxton Perry does a card trick with a child from the audience

Braxton Perry involves a child from the audience in his magic act during Tuesday night’s Big Man on Campus event at the J.C. Penney Auditorium. His obvious connection with the crowd was key to helping him win this year’s title. (Photos by August Jennewein)

As a magician, Braxton Perry still needs some work.

But then that was really the point of his performance Tuesday night, as he followed along with the how-to instructions of a voice from on high while completing – or botching ­– a series of tricks during the talent portion of the Big Man on Campus event at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

There was little doubt the senior physical education major had mastered how to win over the crowd at the J.C. Penney Auditorium throughout the night.

It started when he strolled onto the stage and took off several layers of athletic wear, then smoothly caught a football and basketball tossed to him from the audience in the first segment of the pageant-style event, sponsored by the UMSL Panhellenic Council, that has become a homecoming week tradition.

It continued through his well-plotted and humor-filled magic act, which he did wearing a backwards hat, button-down shirt, tie and shorts that showed off the dry skin on his knees – something he couldn’t help calling attention to.

Perry was just as smooth strutting across the stage in a dark, three-piece suit during the formal wear segment as he was answering a question about his favorite teacher during the Q&A portion that concluded the event.

Braxton Perry, Big Man on Campus

Braxton Perry handles a basketball thrown from the audience after shedding several layers of athletic wear.

He also had plenty to say about Girls Inc., a national nonprofit youth organization with an office in north St. Louis County that benefitted from the event through donations made in penny war buckets.

It was no surprise when Professor Jennifer Siciliani, the night’s master of ceremonies, read the decision of the three judges and announced Perry as the winner of the 2017 Big Man on Campus, besting four other contenders.

UMSL Daily talked to Perry about the experience and what his new title means to him.

What was it like to hear that you won?

I was more than excited. I graduate in December, so this was like a sendoff for me, so thank you, Big Man on Campus, for having me tonight.

Who sponsored you?

DZ, Delta Zeta sorority.

What was your connection to them?

I’m actually in a fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi, and just getting to know different people. Last year, I actually won homecoming king with Riann (Rikard), and she’s a DZ, so just the affiliation between all of that. They thought I was the best choice, so they chose me to be here tonight.

Why did you want to participate?

I wanted to be here because I did it last year, and my roommate beat me out. I wanted to do it again. Girls Inc. is a wonderful organization. I had a great time, so I thought, ‘Why not do it again?’ I’m representing Alpha Sigma Phi, representing Delta Zeta, so I thank you for all the opportunity.

How did you come up with the idea for your talent this year?

It was a mix between myself and my roommates coming up with different ideas of what I could do. Just like I said in my skit, I used to do magic when I was younger, so I figured, “Why not bring it back and make it funny?”

Braxton Perry and women of Delta Zeta sorority

The new Big Man on Campus poses with the women of Delta Zeta, who sponsored him, after winning the title.

Do you consider yourself a natural showman? You seem like you are.

I have to admit I do get nervous when I’m on stage. I’m not going to say I’m a natural. It takes practice, it takes time, but as long as I’m having a good time, it shows and the audience enjoys it.

What was the key to connecting with the crowd the way you did?

Connecting with the crowd, it has a good deal to do with seeing a lot of familiar faces. We had DZ out there. They were supporting me, so that helped me out a lot. It kept me going, and when I looked out in the crowd, I saw my family, I saw random faces and I also saw plenty of faces that I knew. So I think the mix between those things, it just really helped me out. It kept me calm, and it kept me wanting to continue on with the show.

Why have you managed to be so involved on campus?

I learned it in high school. I went to Francis Howell North High School. It was a great time in my life, and it was great because I got involved. So I figured coming here to UMSL, I needed to get involved. It started my freshman year, working at Oak Hall desk. I met a lot of people, got to do a lot of things – wonderful experience. So it’s no surprise that I’m up here on the stage tonight.

Why did you end up at UMSL?

My sister, she’s two years older than me. She was a student here at UMSL, and UMSL is close to home, and great scholarships come from UMSL. I didn’t want to move away too far from my family, but I wanted the experience of living on campus. UMSL was just the perfect choice for me.

What do you want to do after you graduate?

Right now, I’m majoring in physical education. I plan to also take my health test to be certified in that area, and that’s physical education K-12. That’s what I plan to base my career on.

The UMSL Experience

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