In one of Pasadena’s favorite time-honored traditions, the Tournament of Roses recently announced its 101st Rose Queen, Sequoyah High School senior Louise Siskel, to the delight of a packed Pasadena Playhouse.
Siskel stood momentarily dazed when Tournament President Gerald Freeny called out her school’s name and announced her as queen, reacting only when the six Rose Princesses turned to her, applauding.
“When they announced my school’s name I decided it was another school, I couldn’t believe it would be me,” said Siskel, basking afterward on stage in her white Rose Queen dress. “It was a whirlwind — I started clapping for one of these other wonderful young women, I was so excited for them and that they would represent us this year, but I didn’t realize until they got to my last name that it was actually me.”
Siskel slowly recovered from the surprise and returned to the stage, where Freeny presented her with a Mikimoto crown featuring more than 600 cultured pearls and six carats of diamonds.
The evening featured a lively program, with KTLA Channel 5 morning news co-anchor Chris Schauble hosting the event and interviewing each princess on stage, interjecting with humor and an update on the Dodgers’ progress in Game 1 of the World Series. Three solo musical performances that gave a nod to the Tournament of Roses’ 2019 parade theme, “The Melody of Life,” drew rapturous applause.
Waiting in the wings of the stage, Siskel’s parents, Charlie Siskel and Abigail Deser, said they were proud of their daughter, albeit a little surprised.
“I completely did not expect it, but Louise is very tenacious when she finds something she’s interested in — she goes further and deeper than anybody I know,” Deser said.
Her father nodded, and both parents said that their daughter’s experience in public speaking and on the debate team helped her do well during the interview process.
“Louise loves a challenge and loves to talk about things she cares about, so she loved doing the series of interviews. When they asked her ‘What do you care about?’ she loved answering that,” Charlie Siskel said. “It’s wonderful that the people involved in the Tournament of Roses saw in Louise someone that could speak to young girls. … We’re so proud of her.”
Siskel also noted the 2019 Rose Court gives her the platform she has hoped for. Her resume includes university-level breast cancer research and an internship with NASA, and she’d also like to show other girls there is a path for them to seek a career in science, technology, engineering or math.
In June, Siskel will be part of the pioneering class of graduating seniors at Sequoyah School, a K-12 independent school located in Pasadena. During her sophomore and junior year, she served as student council co-president. Siskel is also a member of the debate team and the school’s student judiciary committee.
“I couldn’t be happier for Louise and her family,” said Josh Brody, head of school at Sequoyah. “Our school’s mission is to give students an education that challenges the mind, nurtures the heart and celebrates human dignity. It’s been inspiring to see Louise put these core beliefs into action through her intellectual pursuits and commitment to making the world a better place for all.”
Outside of school, she is involved with the YMCA Youth and Government program and does her cancer research under the tutelage of Shehla Pervin at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. Siskel plans to study cellular and molecular biology and aims to do so at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago or Yale University. In her spare time, she said, she likes to read, play board games with her family, travel and spend time with her friends.
“I’m really excited; I’m really honored to have this opportunity. I look forward to the upcoming few months representing the Tournament, the city of Pasadena and, of course, these wonderful other young ladies on this court. I could not be more honored than to serve with them this year,” said Siskel, noting that she would like to advance the importance of education, scientific thinking and inclusivity during her tenure as queen.
Marc Alongi, Sequoyah High School director, said that with Siskel’s “change-maker attitude” in all her activities, he can’t wait to see what she does next.
“Louise exemplifies, in many ways, the purpose of our work at Sequoyah. We strive for our students to be intellectually curious and compassionate, but also for them to bring a sense of possibility and passion to the world’s most pressing challenges,” Alongi said.
For the remainder of the year, Siskel and the six Royal Court princesses will attend about 100 community functions that highlight the traits that got them on the court in the first place — public speaking, academics, leadership and community involvement.
The grand finale for the 2019 court will be riding on a float in the 130th Rose Parade and attending the 105th Rose Bowl game, both on Tuesday, Jan. 1.
“Louise is one of the most intellectually curious, ambitious and accomplished people I know. She is also incredibly adventurous, compassionate and loyal,” said Emilia Peters, a close friend and classmate at Sequoyah. “She is my most supportive friend, and Pasadena is lucky to have her. But consider this a loan, because we need her back on Jan. 2.”