On Oct. 1, when the Pasadena Tournament of Roses was at last announcing the finalists composing its Royal Court this year, San Marino High School senior Sherry Ma admitted to having a bit of a, well, senior moment.
Each year, when the finalists compete to be the Rose Queen, the TOR announces the contestant’s school, her number and then, finally, her name, ostensibly to add dramatic flair and kick-start the cheers from whichever school the contestant represents.
“When they announced the number, I’d forgotten my own number,” Ma said, recalling that morning in a recent interview at the Tournament House in Pasadena. “Someone was nudging me the entire time. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘174. What a lucky girl.’ It was just really surreal.”
Ma, one of three applicants this year from SMHS, said this year’s theme — “The Melody of Life” — was enough to prompt her to try out for the Rose Court. She has played her favorite instrument, the flute, since 7th grade, and also plays violin and piano.
“I’m a huge music person, and that’s when I knew this year was made for me,” she said. “I dropped out of orchestra midyear” in 7th grade to join her school’s marching band “because I loved the flute so much. The band director looked at me like I was crazy.”
That also was the year in which Ma, whose family had recently moved to Southern California from Colorado, had her first brush with the TOR and its Royal Court. She was doing homework at Crowell Public Library when that year’s court made its annual visit to children at the library to read with them.
“It was just something I knew existed,” Ma said. “I thought it was really cool, but it never sunk in to me that I could be one of them.”
Since that Oct. 1 announcement and the subsequent coronation of Rose Queen Louise Siskel, all seven of the young women have been shepherded all over the Los Angeles area on behalf of the TOR, making good on their outreach commitment leading up to the New Year’s Day Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game.
“It’s been so hectic and amazing,” Ma said. “We had 17 events last week. It’s crazy, but it’s a lot of fun. Not many 17-year-old girls have the experience of being honored at all of these luncheons or having little girls want your autograph.”
She didn’t know any of her fellow princesses or the queen beforehand, but Ma said the group quickly became friends. During the customary gown-fitting, Ma said the group was talking “as though we were friends forever.” Those friends surprised Ma, who said she is the “baby of the group,” on her 17th birthday in November with a spontaneous night out in L.A., telling her to put on a nice outfit on and then showing up at her home soon afterward.
“They kidnapped me for my birthday,” she joked. “They showed up at my house all dressed up and it was like this clown car out front.”
Ma, the editor-in-chief of the Titanian yearbook at SMHS, said that she will aspire to a media career after she attends college and that her experience as a Rose Princess will help propel her to that future.
“I’m meeting real reporters,” she said. “It’s not just students anymore. I remember one of the times, I was actually interviewing the guy. I never thought about doing broadcast before, but it was so exciting holding that microphone.”
Being a San Marino student, Ma said she kept busy growing up and would often plan her day independently of her family to ensure she met all of her academic and extracurricular obligations. Both of her parents work, and Ma said that too would complicate the family’s efforts to spend time together. But with the Rose Court’s schedule planned and coordinated entirely by the TOR, Ma said she has actually had a much easier time sharing moments with her parents.
“Ever since this experience, I’ve been able to spend so much time with them that isn’t just dinner,” she said. “It’s nice to spend so much time with them.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Oh yeah, you have a hundred events,’ and then to actually do a hundred events,” Ma added, elaborating on how her schedule has been since October. “To be pulled out of school so much and be so busy, it’s a real commitment.”
Considering that commitment, and perhaps recalling that finals week at SMHS was drawing near, Ma had a pertinent question for a TOR staffer when her interview was completed.
“Can I stay here and do my homework?” she asked.