It all came up roses for seven lucky young women, four of them Pasadena residents, when the Tournament of Roses announced the members of its 2020 Royal Court on Monday.
A crisp California fall morning welcomed the anxious, excited crowd at the Tournament’s iconic mansion as 25 finalists were presented to the throng of supportive family members, friends and classmates, who lost all inhibition in raising deafening cheers at the announcement of the final favorites.
The four local students are Marshall Fundamental School seniors Reese Rosental Saporito and Mia Thorsen, La Salle College Preparatory senior Camille Kennedy and Maranatha High School senior Michael Wilkins. They gingerly descended the storied tiered staircase to accept their deep-red rose bouquets amid fanfare from the Pasadena City College Lancers marching band, settled in under the mansion’s majestic banyan tree.
This year, the seven royals were chosen by volunteer members of the Tournament of Roses’ Queen and Court Committee from among 600 applicants attending 45 participating area schools, using a number of criteria, including public speaking ability, academic achievement, youth leadership, and community and school involvement. The 2020 Royal Court’s members will serve as ambassadors of the tournament, the Pasadena community and the Greater Los Angeles area, and each will receive a $7,500 educational scholarship. The court’s grand finale will be riding on a float in the 131st Rose Parade and attending the 106th Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1.
The announcement and coronation of the 102nd Rose Queen and presentation of the 2020 Royal Court will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Before announcing the court, Tournament of Roses 2020 President Laura Farber introduced the theme of “The Power of Hope” — or “El Poder de la Esperanza,” she fluently added in Spanish. Farber is the first Hispanic woman to head the TOR.
“Hope is the belief that what is wanted can be attained, from the struggle of those that came before us, to dreams yet [to be] fulfilled. Hope is more than the possibility of fulfillment, hope is dignity and respect, joy and happiness, aspiration and achievement,” she said. “… Hope never quits. No one can ever take hope away from you. And currently in this country and in this world where we are so divided, hope can bring everyone together on America’s New Year celebration.”
After young women of the Royal Court — the 114th in Pasadena history — received enthusiastic applause, wiped away happy tears and smiled for the hundreds of flashing cameras — including selfie shots from those in the audience — they nervously answered questions with giddy charm.
“I’m just completely honored and so happy and so excited for this process, and the people around me are just amazing people and I’m so excited to spend so much time with them the rest of this year and represent Pasadena. I’ve lived here my whole life, it’s such an honor,” said Marshall’s Rosental Saporito, seemingly in a single breath. She hopes to attend Northwestern University to study law, with a background in science.
Thorsen, her classmate, was equally animated, noting that she never thought two girls from Marshall would be named to the court. Apart from feeling a little overwhelmed by the honor, Thorsen noted that she and Rosental Saporito have often been in the same classes and clubs at school.
“I feel like it’s only right that she and I are on this journey together — I’m so excited to have her along the way and grow our friendship,” she said, laughing because the two might end up causing trouble in their English class. “I do feel a little bit bad for my English teacher, because Reese and I sit next to each other and there have definitely been a few class periods where we’ve been just talking about the logistics of trying out.”
Thorsen’s parents, waiting in the wings to hug and hold their daughter, also admitted they were overcome with emotion by her selection to the court.
“This year has been unbelievable for us … we can barely talk, we’re so excited, I’m sorry!” said Dina Thorsen, pausing to answer whether she thought her daughter was going to be chosen. “You know, the theme this year is hope, and I know my daughter to be a very kind and loving person, and she always pushes herself and tries to do her best in everything and I knew she’s like that to me regardless.”
Marshall Principal Mark Anderson also expressed how proud he is of the two students, noting: “I am excited for Mia and Reese, they are both well-rounded young ladies and I am confident they will be wonderful ambassadors for the Tournament of Roses. The Marshall Fundamental students and faculty are extremely proud and happy of their selection for this honor.”
Meanwhile, Maranatha’s Wilkins clutched her bouquet and smiled broadly, explaining her slow reaction to having to descend the stairs.
“I was so shocked when they said ‘Maranatha,’ my jaw dropped and I just couldn’t even walk down the stairs,” she said. “I feel ecstatic, I am so happy, it feels so good because I really feel like I have so much to offer Pasadena. I’ve lived here my whole life and I really want to make them proud and represent them well.”
Maranatha Principal John Rouse was part of a large fan club present to support Wilkins, and said that a more deserving girl could not have been chosen.
“I just love that Michael won, she is someone who has kind of been in the shadows and so for her to step into the light with her big heart and sweet spirit — I’m just so happy for her and blessed that she’s been able to do this,” said Rouse, who noted that Wilkins went through the interview process after suffering a concussion while playing tennis. Her coaches, also in the wings, added that she’s a player who “really goes for it,” all the time, and hit her head on a metal bar on a fence while leaping for a ball. “She really is such a kind, kind person, so to see her celebrated like this is really special.”
La Salle senior Kennedy, whose red dress matched her roses, beamed from her position on stage and expertly ignored a classmate’s shout that “You owe me $20!” as she posed for photos. A friend had bet her that she would be standing in that very spot weeks ago.
“I told my friends after the first interview that ‘Maybe I’ll make round two,’ and they said “Oh, we’ll see you on stage.’ So they had a lot of faith in me, and I’m glad they pulled through with me, it was very nice to know I had so much support,” she said. “It’s a really surreal moment right now!”
Kennedy, who aspires to study Japanese linguistics in Tokyo — she also spent her sophomore year studying in Japan — is a natural standout, said La Salle Principal Courtney Kassakhian.
“We are so excited for Camille to be named to the Tournament of Roses Royal Court — Camille is a talented student and a young woman who is passionate about learning and exploring the world. She is a dedicated student who challenges herself academically, while also participating in co-curriculars, such as La Salle’s theater and chorus programs,” Kassakhian said. “She is a very accomplished, warm and well-spoken young woman and is quick to share a friendly smile. We know that she will represent herself, La Salle and Pasadena wonderfully as a member of the Royal Court.”