Nervous chatter filled the dewy morning air as the Tournament of Roses chose seven young women to lead the 2019 Royal Court on Monday, including five local students who will partake in what is considered the city’s closest thing to new world royalty amid a year filled with pomp and splendor.
The lucky local students include two Westridge School girls, Lauren Baydaline and Micaela McElrath, and Ashley Hackett of John Muir High School, Louise Siskel of Sequoyah High School and Helen Rossi of Flintridge Prep, who were welcomed into the time-honored fold amid the frenzied whoops and hollers of hundreds of family and friends gathered on the lawn.
This year, the seven were chosen from 44 finalists to represent the court in about 100 community and media functions, serving as ambassadors of the Tournament of Roses, the Pasadena community and the Greater Los Angeles area. The 2019 Royal Court’s grand finale will be riding on a float in the 130th Rose Parade and attending the 105th Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1.
The announcement and coronation of the 101st Rose Queen and presentation of the 2019 Royal Court is on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Pasadena Playhouse.
As the girls’ names were called, they delicately descended the Tournament House’s tiered staircase to receive their fragrant, deep-red bouquets, and tried to hold back tears as family and friends erupted in cheers.
The first to be called was Ashley Hackett, who, seemingly stunned, took a prolonged moment to move from her spot. Afterward, as she stood next to her fellow six Royal Court members, she said she still felt incredulous at the turn of events.
“There were so many other amazing candidates — there were 43 other girls that I bonded with and they were so amazing; their personalities were out of this world, and it really could be any of them up here,” said Hackett, who hopes to stay local for college, perhaps to attend USC or UCLA, and plans to study human biology to become a dermatologist in the future. “I’m honored and blessed to get the opportunity to represent my school and this is the best way I could ever think of to give back and make an impact. I’d like to show other girls like myself that anything is possible — you just have to work hard and do your best.”
In the wings of the crowd, Hackett’s fan club, including sister Kennedy, excitedly waited to shower her with affection. She wasn’t surprised her older sister was chosen, she said.
“I wasn’t surprised at all, she has so much poise and she is just amazing; I think she deserves it!” Kennedy Hackett said, laughing, adding that since her sister is the middle child of the family, she’ll have to get used to being the center of attention this year. “I’ll have to give up my post for a while as youngest, but I can live with it!”
Meanwhile, Westridge School celebrated the selection of its two students, who were also the only Westridge girls out of the 44 finalists.
This year, there were about 800 applicants from 24 area schools, and volunteer members of the TOR Queen and Court Committee made its selections based on a number of criteria, including public speaking ability, academic achievement, youth leadership, and community and school involvement. Although the number of finalists varies from year to year, there were 23 finalists this year that had the same score, a TOR spokeswoman said.
“I’m so genuinely excited,” said Lauren Baydaline, who also plans to study medicine, although after taking Latin this year at school, has also fallen in love with linguistics. “I cannot wait to start my journey with the Rose Court. It’s such an amazing opportunity — I thought it was too good to be true, and now knowing it’s actually happening, it’s unbelievable!” One of the events Baydaline is most looking forward to is the court’s visit to City of Hope, she added.
Her parents, Selena and Nick Baydaline, glowed in the aftermath as they waited for their daughter. Just that morning, she had been blow drying her hair while reviewing for a Latin and physics test later in the day. After the exams, the parents were going to drive her up to the Sequoia National Forest for a school retreat.
“She didn’t get any sleep last night, and here we thought we’d be driving her up to the retreat. … I guess now there’s a little wrench in our plans,” said mom Selena, noting that because they had already announced the other Westridge student on the court, she didn’t think her daughter would stand a chance.
Standing next to Baydaline in the court’s line stood Westridge classmate Micaela McElrath.
“I can’t even believe this is real right now — I’m so incredibly honored to be a part of this and embark on this journey will all these wonderful girls. I’m very excited to represent my school and my family,” said McElrath, who would like to study psychology, and perhaps work with children in schools. She’d like to use her position on the Rose Court to advocate for women and for education, she added.
Westridge Head of School Elizabeth McGregor noted how proud she is of her two students. Westridge hadn’t had a member on the court since 2015, and this year there were two, a novelty for the school.
“We are proud of both Lauren and Micaela — young women who are naturally curious and dedicated to learning. They are consistent in their focus, spirit and positive attitudes — they have a lot to offer our community, are admirable role models and will bring their hearts and minds to whatever they do,” McGregor said of the girls. “They are bringing the best of themselves and the qualities and values that Westridge upholds to the city that we have been a part of for more than 100 years. With their forward thinking and confidence they show how they — and Westridge — can touch the future, be committed to change, yet be part of an important legacy.”
For Louise Siskel, a senior at Sequoyah High School, making the 2019 Rose Court is offering her the platform she has hoped for.
The science-minded Siskel already holds university-level breast cancer research and an internship with NASA on her resume and wants to show other girls there is a path for them to seek a career in science, technology, engineering or math.
“I think the Royal Court has unique opportunities to serve other kids in the community and to encourage them to pursue their passions, as I have my own,” Siskel said, all smiles after she was announced. “It’s definitely in a different vein from what I’ve done. I’m excited for the opportunity and think it’ll be a wonderful learning experience for me.”
Flintridge Prep is also represented on the court this year, with Helen Rossi the elated winner. Rossi, like the other finalists, boasts an immensely busy calendar of extracurricular activities, including the National Charity League, senior Girl Scouts and is a tutor at Hathaway Sycamores.
With the TOR’s 2019 theme being “The Melody of Life,” Rossi recalled a personal experience as a camp counselor trying to teach young campers the recorder. She ended up learning a valuable life lesson, and one that translates to the TOR’s theme.
“We laughed uproariously at the terrible sounds that first emerged, but eventually they all played a respectable version of ‘Yankee Doodle.’ That truly represents ‘The Melody of Life’ because with perseverance and support, we created a melody together,” she said.
TOR President Gerald Freeny (2018-19) told the packed audience he also hopes to use this year’s musical theme to help unite people across all walks of life and encourage creativity in the float entries and participants, adding that “Music is the universal language.”
With a swooping arm, he welcomed the seven Royal Court members into Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses “family” before the captive audience.
“They represent the best of today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders,” he said.