102nd Rose Queen Reflects on Her Reign of Honor
It’s hard to believe for 102nd Rose Queen Camille Kennedy, but in less than a week, on Wednesday, Jan. 1, she’ll embark on a trip down Colorado Boulevard with the Royal Court for their greatest show yet at the 131st Rose Parade, waving to nearly 700,000 people and an estimated 65 million television viewers.
For the La Salle College Preparatory senior it’s been a journey: In a little more than two months, she and the six princesses have attended about 130 community and media functions, serving as ambassadors of the Tournament of Roses, the Pasadena community and the Greater Los Angeles area.
“It’s been just a really incredible time, pretty crazy, but really, really great,” Kennedy mused from Tournament House. She’d just finished her semester finals at La Salle that day, and relief washed over her. Now she could focus on the grand finale and enjoying her last moments of the year with court members, with whom she’s grown very close.
“One of the biggest things I’m especially grateful for is the people that I’m getting to work with — I’m very fortunate to have a group of six really supportive, kind, loving girls to go through this with. Truly, these girls have so quickly become my six new best friends, and I really am very lucky because that’s not always guaranteed,” she said. “What I’m very proud of about our group is that individually we’re very diverse people. We all bring something interesting and different to the court and the experience, but in that same way we all fit together really well, like puzzle pieces.”
It was no surprise that Kennedy was chosen to lead the Royal Court back in October: To those who know her, she is a genuine, kind and unassuming young woman who exudes an almost unnatural maturity and composure.
For La Salle English teacher Scott Do Vale, the only surprise that Kennedy was chosen as Rose Queen was that the Tournament also recognized the same traits that he grew to admire as she took his class during her junior year. He recalled that her contributions to discussions on some of the American greats like Emerson, Thoreau, “The Great Gatsby” or “Native Son,” showed her ability as a critical thinker.
“Her intellectual curiosity would always bring her to recognize the humanity in them as well as herself. … She recognized the beauty of each writer’s philosophy and humanity and her epiphanies, more or less, brought us together,” Do Vale said. “Camille has no pretensions, completely genuine and an unusual perception of the world which gives her an openness to different experiences. She sincerely appreciates everyone’s voice and has integrity and grace like very few people I have met in my lifetime.”
La Salle Principal Courtney Kassakhian also recognized Queen Camille’s self-purpose, noting that her drive and determination were apparent early on. Kennedy became La Salle’s second to win the crown in three years, following the 100th Rose Queen Isabella Marez in 2018. That rare feat also shows just how much Camille must have impressed the Tournament, she noted.
“That just tells you how special Camille is. She self-advocates and is a very smart, outspoken young woman who knows what she wants and is always willing to take the steps to make that a reality.”
Kassakhian referenced the year Kennedy chose to study in Japan, which had been a dream for the student since she was in 6th grade. Kennedy, now fluent in Japanese after her studies and year abroad, first fell in love with Japanese culture when her 2nd grade teacher (“the best year of my life,” Kennedy quipped, laughing) dug out a movie called “My Neighbor Totoro,” a 1988 animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli. The rest is history.
“I was hooked. I instantly went home to tell my mom all about it and wanted to look up all the other movies in existence just like that one. Hayao Miyazaki is one of my biggest creative inspirations that has been a real driving force in my life. It was a huge part of my growing up,” she recalled. Then she met a foreign exchange student from Italy in 6th grade, and the wheels spun: “I knew it would be something I could do. … I just always had this weird, gravitational pull to Japan.”
Kennedy has cultivated a long list of other interests, mostly having to do with music and theater. She’s a soprano in the school choir and actively involved in school theater productions. For many years, she was a competitive Irish dancer through the local Cleary Irish Dance school, until injuries and time constraints got in the way.
Kennedy now plans to attend college in Japan and is (nervously) awaiting responses to her applications: “Oh, it is nerve-wracking,” she said flatly.
No matter where Kennedy lands, Do Vale said he is confident she will do great things: “Without any push or insistence on her future, she will rise to become someone who we will all say, ‘I knew her when…’; I look forward to hearing about all her future endeavors!”
Going forward, Kennedy is using some of the lessons learned in Japan to help guide her toward this last chapter as Rose Queen.
“One of the most important things that Japan taught me is gratitude. I think it’s really important, especially for people my age … to recognize and appreciate fully the work that everyone else does for us, our parents and guardians and everyone who helps support us and what we do,” she said, segueing to recognize the volunteers who help the Royal Court throughout the year.
“We also have this excellent committee that is so committed and helpful to us, so we are just very grateful,” Kennedy said. “Truly, these girls have been my undying support system in everything we do, and we all try to have each other’s backs no matter what, whether we’re at an event together or just texting each other on the side, we are always in contact. I’m so proud of them and I have so much love and appreciation for every single one of them.”
President Personifies Theme of Hope, Unity
Tournament of Roses President Laura Farber has had quite a year, traveling the globe to visit many of the new bands that will make up the high-energy procession of celebratory music at the 131st Rose Parade, which will be followed by the 106th Rose Bowl Game, on Wednesday, Jan. 1.
As the first Latina and only the third woman to serve as president of the 935-member volunteer organization, Farber might already have been better versed in diversity than most, yet she said she was surprised at how much she learned through her travels and meetings with people across vastly different regions and socioeconomic scales.
“It has been the most palpable, amazing experience for us — I truly believe I’ve been transformed this year,” said Farber, sitting down at her presidential desk at the iconic Tournament House to discuss her year of leadership. “I’ve grown so much from the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and they come from a variety of circumstances and backgrounds, and what’s been so beautiful is meeting these kids who have never left their towns, their cities or their countries, never been on an airplane. Now they’re going to have an opportunity of a lifetime to come here and to perform on the largest international stage that exists.”
Farber excitedly described some of the bands she and her husband, Tomas Lopez — who took a year off to travel with her — visited this past year, all of them one-of-a-kind, disciplined and motivated to master musical and dance performances and raise funds for their trip to the City of Roses. Farber emphasized the perseverance and optimism she met along the way.
There’s the all-female marching band from Denmark; the eight-city band from Japan that honors the 2020 Olympics; the band from the little town of Sarcedo, Costa Rica, where the local economy has boomed as families have traveled from all over to practice in the town. There’s the school band from Greendale, Wisconsin, which doesn’t even hold tryouts and whose many kids had never even picked up an instrument before; the band from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, called the Human Jukebox (“Because you put a quarter in it and they’ll play it: I’ve never seen anything like this. Their energy is off the charts!”); and the band from West Harrison, Mississippi — the first from the state in 30 years — hailing from a newer school that was formed as a result of Hurricane Katrina, hence the name “the Hurricanes” (“That community has been so incredibly resilient”).
Not to be overlooked, there are Southern California bands such as the Rancho Verde Crimson Regiment from Moreno Valley. The band hails from a school district where military families are heavily represented and 85% of the children are on free or reduced lunch, and the ensemble is led by the first Vietnamese American director in the Rose Parade.
Farber took a long breath, regretting she didn’t have more time to describe others: “And that’s just a few!” All told, 23 bands will march in the parade.
“These bands all have stories, and that’s what drew us to them — this is going to be a very special parade,” she said. “[When] you travel and leave the U.S., you learn how impactful our events are across the world. These families make a ceremony, a ritual out of watching the parade and the game, it’s part of their New Year’s Day experience.”
Tournament officials estimate the parade will have a live audience of 700,000, with 37 million TV viewers in the U.S. and another 28 million elsewhere in the world.
PERSONAL MEANING IN PARADE THEME
Farber has been a volunteer member of the Tournament of Roses Association since 1993 and was elected to the executive committee in 2012, giving her a few years to contemplate on a parade theme that was special to her and her family.
“The Power of Hope,” or “Poder de la Esperanza” as she quickly says in Spanish, is a tribute to all who have immigrated to the United States in search of hope and a better life, just as her own parents did in the 1960s. It’s the first time in Tournament history that “hope” has been used in the theme.
Farber was a toddler when her parents left everything and everyone they knew behind in Argentina: the decision came after her father, while finishing school at the University of Buenos Aires, witnessed a group of students being tear-gassed, beaten with clubs and hauled away. Although the incident predated the so-called Dirty War, “There were some really, really bad things happening, people disappearing, tortures.”
They had a connection in Santa Barbara, where they first landed, and later relocated to Monterey Park, where Farber grew up. She graduated from Alhambra High School and went on to UCLA before earning a law degree from Georgetown University. There she met Lopez. He had a similar early childhood — his parents fled the Dominican Republic when he was young to escape the violent Rafael Trujillo regime.
“For both of our families, they always saw the United States as a beacon of freedom and hope. But the theme is much more than that,” Farber explained. “Hope is joy and dignity and happiness and respect, aspiration and achievement. What I love about hope is, it doesn’t quit, nobody can ever take it away from you.”
Amid the nation’s divided, contentious political situation, Farber especially wanted a concept that could bring people together.
“Everybody can relate to the concept of hope. Everything is possible with hope. At a time when our country and world is so divided, we really wanted to have a theme that would bring everybody together with America’s New Year celebration. Bring the humanity together and do what we do, which is to bring hope and joy to the world.”
Farber pointed out the framed 2020 parade poster, with “HOPE” in capital letters, to show the intricate symbolization of the design, with the “H” made with the image of a marching band and every other letter conveying its own meaning. Two butterflies adorn the image — a nod to the Julia Alvarez novel “In the Time of Butterflies,” which depicted the story of the four Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic. Using the code name “Las Mariposas” (the butterflies), the sisters fought against Trujillo’s dictatorship and human rights violations, resulting in the assassinations of three of them.
Gerald Freeny, who became the Tournament’s first African American president last year, praised Farber’s work, including the successful theme.
“You have the power to dream and you have the hope to succeed. … The theme is very special and the poster was a really personal family project,” said Freeny, who as he scouted bands last year was accompanied by Farber and Lopez, with the couple serving as interpreters during a visit to Costa Rica. “Laura is a very loyal friend and loves the Tournament very much; she has tried to put the association first in everything she does. As an attorney by trade, Laura is very thorough and seeks the truth and is very straightforward. You always know where she’s coming from!”
COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY, OUTREACH
One of the most pleasant surprises Farber experienced amid her travels involved the thoughtful questions from young band members about her and Lopez’ experience growing up in the U.S. as immigrants.
“They asked the best questions, really wanted to know if we had struggles, if it was hard, if we faced adversity,” she recalled. Farber, not one to pull punches, shared the truth as best as she could. There are many little truths, she noted, some so subtle they might be overlooked by anyone not a minority. For instance, her personal experience as a professional attorney of expressing an idea that falls flat during a board meeting but earns high praise when repeated by a male colleague.
“What I do now is, I’ll say, ‘Gosh, I’m so happy you share my idea!’ I take my own credit because no one else will give it to me. So you learn how to empower yourself and speak up for yourself in situations like that,” she noted.
Speaking Spanish also came with sizable trepidation as she grew up, with other children judging her or using derogatory names. She’d ask her mom not to speak Spanish to her in public.
“Kids struggle with that and wanting to be accepted by their peers. … Fortunately, I got over that pretty quickly and developed over time and with maturation incredible pride in my background,” she said, observing that her own children, Christopher, 22, and Jessica, 20, have faced similar, subtle snide remarks as they’ve gone through school, though she does feel “there is more tolerance and acceptance now.”
Farber has used her personal experience to talk about the Tournament’s commitment to expand its reach to people of all backgrounds, ages, races and ethnicities. When Farber joined it 26 years ago, there were very few people of color in the organization and protests about that called attention to the situation.
“It’s been a priority this year to make sure the world knows that our membership and our leadership now reflects the diversity of our community, which was a concerted effort made by our organization, and it was done in a very organic way, which was the way to do it,” Farber said. “We now have a pipeline [of diverse members] and I’m very proud of that and I talk about it everywhere I go.”
She pointed to the choice of three grand marshals this year, all Latinas — Rita Moreno, Gina Torres and Laurie Hernandez — representing three generations.
“We had a multigenerational plan and we want to expand our demographic and attract a variety of people to stay relevant and sustain our future,” she said.
Tournament CEO and Executive Director David Eads has enjoyed watching Farber spread the message this year, turning a decades-long effort by the TOR to diversify into tangible results.
“The Tournament commitment to diversifying leadership goes back to the ’90s. We need to represent the communities in which we work and operate, and we continue to do outreach; we welcome diverse membership and all ages of membership — we are working actively to have a good mix of young leaders and older leaders, just a broad range of people joining the Tournament,” Eads said. “Laura’s enthusiasm is contagious; she wanted to experience it all from the get-go and be a very strong representative. I don’t think she turned down any single invitation this year, while balancing her job as a practicing attorney and as a mother. She’s just a very engaging, inspirational speaker about the impact and difference the parade makes around the world.”
YEAR OF THE WOMAN
Farber feels especially lucky to guide the Tournament of Roses into 2020, the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave U.S. women the right to vote. There will be two floats dedicated to the event and 100 women dressed as suffragists walking alongside.
Also, upon a visit to Whiteman Air Force Base, a Missouri facility that typically supplies the B-2 bomber jet that flies over the parade, Farber discovered the base is now training female pilots. She immediately asked for a woman pilot to fly the aircraft this year, another first in Tournament history: “I’m very proud of that.”
The law firm at which Farber works, Hahn & Hahn, one of the oldest in Pasadena history, has been committed to the Tournament since the organization began as the Valley Hunt Club. Farber is the fifth president from the law firm, albeit the first woman.
Law partner Karl Swaidan said he’s enjoyed just hearing about Farber’s experiences this year and listening to her speeches, and is eager to cheer her on at the parade.
“Laura is an outstanding attorney — she’s the kind you’d want on your side — and she brings the same energy and commitment to her role as president of the Tournament as she does on behalf of her clients,” Swaidan said. “Laura really represents how attorneys should practice law in a zealous but ethical manner, while also being keenly aware of her responsibilities to the greater community beyond just her profession. We could not be more proud and happy that Laura is president this year. She and her husband, Tomas, are ideal ambassadors for the Tournament, the city of Pasadena and Hahn & Hahn.”