Rose Queen Shares Hope, Gratitude for New Year

First published in the Jan. 6 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

Special to the Outlook Valley Sun

At 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 1 — while our neighbors were fast asleep in the homes all around us — the Royal Court and I were excitedly waking up for the day.
I heard the Pasadena Tournament of Roses’ van pull up to my house and jumped in, joining Princesses Ava Feldman and Jaeda Walden. In our matching Christmas pajamas, we immediately huddled up together and laughed through the cold of the morning.
When we arrived at the Tournament House, it was “go time.” Cheerful volunteers in white suits were already exchanging “Good morning! Happy New Year!” and cosmetologists from the Paul Mitchell School greeted us with curling irons and eyeshadow in each hand. As skillfully placed bobby pins transformed our hair into elegant updos, I looked to my left to see Princess Jeannine Briggs typing up college applications and to my right to see Princesses Abigail Griffith and Mckenzie Street DJing through ’90s music. In any other circumstances, the college essays and impromptu karaoke in-between Royal Court events would be the archetype of a classic day together.
But amid being reminded to change into our gowns and put on crowns for our first interview at 5:45 a.m, I couldn’t help but marvel in disbelief that it was finally parade day.
At 6:45 a.m., the Scouts performed the flag-raising ceremony. As the sun rose with the flags — melting away the twilight we woke up to — my eyes were transfixed on the vibrant pink and orange glow spreading across the sky. Princess Swetha Somasundarum leaned over to me and whispered, “Today is already the most beautiful day.”
We walked out onto Orange Grove at 7:40 a.m. Standing beside the incredible floats, I was in full agreement with Swetha’s sentiment. As we stepped onto the Queen and Court float, I sat down in a state of shock.
Holding my bouquet of red roses and waving to those standing in front of the Tournament House, my mind thought back to all the years when I would gasp at the sight of the Royal Court waving from their float. I couldn’t believe I was about to ride down the Rose Parade route. Princess Jaeda reached back to me and squeezed my hand in excitement. We felt the float begin moving, and for a moment, I’m convinced each one of us Royal Court members stopped breathing.
And then there was TV corner, where I couldn’t help but beam with pure happiness. It’s true; there were hundreds of thousands of people in the grandstands that morning. But somehow, I could easily spot my family and friends. I saw my parents, brother, cousins, aunts and uncles cheering at the top of their lungs and waving signs. I saw my grandparents bundled up in jackets and scarves, proudly waving at me. And I saw everyone surrounded by a community that was beyond thrilled to celebrate the New Year’s Day together.
The two hours of the parade are a blur as much as they are simultaneously imprinted in my mind and heart. I took mental snapshots of the moments when I saw dear friends who came out to surprise me, kids whose faces lit up when I waved back specifically to them and families who were all hugging to stay warm.
When our Tournament Queen and Court Committee Chair, Steve Perry, asked us if we were feeling OK, saying “yes” was an understatement. In reality, we felt incredible because we were witnessing our community filled with a spirit of unfailing resilience and hope. I can’t imagine a more inspiring sight.
On Jan. 1, there was so much to be grateful for: The 935 Tournament of Roses volunteers who dedicated their time and energy to our community. The bands, Scouts and every other parade participant who prepared all year long for the celebration. The wonderful people who were watching the parade in person or at home.
And on a personal note: I am grateful for my parents who encouraged me always to be optimistic; the incredible six princesses who became my sisters and will be my best friends for life; the Queen and Court Committee members and their families who took us in as their daughters for the past four months.
I owe so much to the community that has shaped me, supported me and believed in me through every step of my life leading up to this point. Thank you for always encouraging me to “Dream, Believe, Achieve.”
I look forward to 2022: May it be a year that brims with health and overwhelming joy for our community.