La Cañada Flintridge resident Emilie Risha’s tenure as a Tournament of Roses Royal Court member has involved a whirlwind of community appearances and an onslaught of questions from devotees of the Pasadena tradition, but now her No. 1 focus is the 131st Rose Parade.
Risha, a senior at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, will join the other young women of the court, led by Rose Queen Camille Kennedy, for the 5.5-mile journey by float on Wednesday, Jan. 1. “My brain immediately goes to being practical and thinking, ‘OK, when they pick me up at my house at 1:45 a.m., what am I going to have in my bag?’ and kind of thinking that way,” Risha said in a recent interview. “That’s the first way I’m thinking about it. But another part of my brain says, ‘OK, let’s try to really be present. Take it all in, have a big smile, take deep breaths, and ultimately I’m just super, super excited.”
Tournament President Laura Farber described Risha as a wonderful ambassador.
“She is intelligent, passionate, articulate and so caring — she embodies this year’s theme, ‘The Power of Hope,’” Farber said in a statement. “We can’t wait to go down that glorious parade route with Emilie and the entire Royal Court on Jan. 1, 2020!”
Risha, 17, said she has learned a lot from her brief but intense journey as a court member — which has included about 130 community and media functions in two-plus months — but her family has said it has made her more able to articulate a point of view.
“Having done all these interviews and having to speak to so many people — usually with my family, when you get asked a question you don’t always have to answer it,” Risha said. “You can be silent or just say a couple of things and kind of dodge it. When it’s on this kind of a scale and you’re really expected to have a good answer, you have to be able to answer questions quickly. I think that’s definitely a skill that I’ve learned from this process.”
Risha admitted she can still be intimidated by certain people, so she focuses on being a good listener when she interacts with others. The skill can apply to interviews, conversations or even with her fellow court members, she said.
“You really want to be able to thoughtfully understand what they’re saying so that you can come up with the best response possible,” Risha said.
Some of the more challenging aspects of being a court member are what she describes as “the mental game” of being prepared for every event and interview.
“You need to really turn on your brain in a certain way and try to put out your best self,” Risha said. “You always want to maintain a positive self-talk and keep yourself motivated and happy, because if you’re going to make your community motivated and happy it’s got to come from within.”
Risha’s parents said they were pleased with their daughter’s development in the process.
“Emilie has gained a deeper understanding of the world around us and a greater appreciation for the broader community in which we live,” said her mother, Elizabeth Risha. “We are extremely proud of Emilie, of course. We are also very fond of all the Royal Court members and have enjoyed getting to know their families. I’m sure these young women will remain close friends for years to come.”
Emilie’s father, Janah Risha, praised the Tournament’s court committee.
“Their level of planning and precision in running the court’s daily events is amazing,” he said.
Emilie Risha is the second daughter of four. The others are Lauren, a FSHA graduate; Allison, a sophomore at FSHA; and Isabelle, an 8th-grader at La Cañada High School 7/8.
Risha traces her first memories of the Rose Parade began to when she was 6 or 7, having watched the event and become aware of the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association float built under the freeway in the Flintridge Prep parking lot.
“I knew about the court and it was very kind of elusive, and I thought it was so prestigious,” she said. “I was very ‘Oh my goodness I really hope that maybe one day I’ll have the chance to get kind of close to this.’ It was in very undefined terms. But I think my parents and my parents’ friends had a better understanding of what the Tournament of Roses is. … They were like ‘Wow, Emilie, you should really be on the court.’”
Now that she’s on it, she describes it as a sisterhood that has remained that way.
“I can’t say that there haven’t been bumps in the road,” Risha said. “We all get tired, and especially now it’s an incredibly stressful time because college decisions are coming back and you have to take your finals. The semester is wrapping up for our high schools, and of course we have all of our engagements with the court. More often than not, it’s been a support system rather than an extra stress.”
She does hear jokes from classmates and even teachers at FSHA for being on the court. While her classmates are happy about the honor, at least one of her teachers made a remark she still remembers weeks later.
“I remember once my chemistry teacher saw me walking out in my [court] outfit because I had to leave school early to be picked up for an event,” Risha said. “And she was like ‘Wow, you look like a 40-year-old woman’ and I was like ‘Thank you.’ I think she meant that I looked very put together but I took that as a compliment,” she said with a laugh.
After the New Year, Risha plans to begin a Gold Award project as a member of Girl Scout Troop 981 located in LCF, and to teach ballet workshops to girls ages 7-16 to promote a healthy body image through dance.
“You don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain type of person to enjoy dance,” Risha said. “I think it stemmed from dance being something really positive in my life. Just developing an awareness of your body and shifting your consciousness from ‘Oh, my physical existence, it only exists for me to look a certain way.’ That’s not true. You’re here physically to move and to live. It’s not just about your appearance.”
Looking past her days on the Royal Court, Risha currently plans to major in linguistic anthropology in college to learn how language has informed culture and continues to do so.
“I think that’s something very special and I know that’s very common to kind of shift and evolve your major as you actually take the classes so I’m definitely not dead set on studying that one thing,” Risha said.
She’s waiting to hear back from University of California schools before making her college choice by May 1.
Asked if there was anything she ultimately wanted to get out of the Royal Court experience, she was succinct.
“What I was most looking forward to — and I think what has happened — is making my family proud and bringing more recognition to my school,” Risha said.