The phrase “Princess Practice” might call a select set of images to mind: navigating a dinner plate surrounded by an impossible number of forks, carefully balancing a stack of dictionaries on your head while walking heel-to-toe, or Julie Andrews instructing a young Anne Hathaway in the art of the regal wave. But for the high school seniors on the 2022 Daffodil Festival Royal Court, it means something very different.
For the past few months, they’ve been waking up on Saturday mornings and driving out to a local dance studio – clad in business casual attire and character shoes – and getting the kind of education that isn’t typically doled out at the 23 participating local high schools they each represent.
There to meet them is Mabel Thompson, Daffodil Festival Royalty Educator.
Royalty Educator is a unique position: it’s not just enough to give the upcoming Royal Court lessons on etiquette and appearance, but also calls for rigorous understanding of Festival history, ambassadorship, and public speaking skills. That’s not even to mention instruction on how to interact with audiences of all ages throughout the Pacific Northwest, in a myriad of scenarios in which Princesses might find themselves across the duration of their reign.
Unsurprisingly, Thompson herself was a Princess in the 2017 Royal Court, and had seen firsthand what the job required.
However, the passion to pursue the position, she gained through her collegiate career on the eastern side of the state. “During my time at Washington State University, I was a member of Sigma Alpha Agriculture Sorority,” she says, “and served as the 2nd Vice President [in charge of New Member Education] for two years, developing and fleshing out their Education process. This was something that I found to bring a lot of joy and a sense of healthy challenge into my life! After I graduated and moved back to the west-side I wanted to jump back in with the Festival and help where I could.”
“I reflected back on my time as a princess… It dawned on me that I had the skill set that could help elevate this program into something above and beyond. I wanted to bring what I learned through Sigma Alpha – like professional development, leadership skills and other important tools – as well as Girl Scouts and other organizations and clubs, to the Festival, and prepare the girls in a way that would help them not only during their reign but well beyond into their careers.”
In terms of finding inspiration for how to structure this huge undertaking, Thompson reached for a reliable source of wisdom she knew she could depend on: her fellow past Princesses. “The first thing I did when I got the green light to take over the education process was poll the alumni! They are one of the greatest sources of knowledge and information on what needed to be added, changed or kept.”
They pointed her towards familiar topics, ones she knew she would have to focus on in building a complete curriculum for the newest batch of monarchs. “The general consensus was a greater need for professional development, like how to network, start and end a conversation, and in general, jump in with confidence, to get the full experience for what it is.”
“This was pretty reflective of my time as a Princess,” she says. “I felt completely lost on how to start conversations that were not me making an awkward joke or politely shuffling away when I did not have anything to add. This is something I wanted to make sure I could equip the Court with, so they did not have to learn the hard way.”
Her past with various organizations – like her sorority and Girl Scouts – also led her towards what she saw as effective models for how to construct classes in a way that would resonate with busy high school seniors. For this, she relied on the three C’s: “Courage, Confidence, and Character.”
“I wanted the Court to have the courage to stay in their growth zone and be brave in trying new things, speaking in front of crowds, and to be a voice in their community. I wanted to give them the tools to be confident in their ability to be an ambassador – to start conversations, jump into activities, take command of the situation and be a role model. As well as have the knowledge that this program is not intended for everyone to be the same, because they are all individuals that were selected for a reason. I wanted them to know that character meant learning how to be the best version of themselves, because there will only ever be one 2022 Court, and only one of them, and that’s something important.”
Still, asking busy students to pay attention to classes on a Saturday morning – especially instruction that typically follows two hours of song and dance rehearsals – isn’t always the simplest task.
“Honestly, the hardest part is when they do not laugh at my jokes,” Thompson quips. “It might also be knowing we have a limited amount of time to get through everything I want to do with them, teach them, and show them, to guide them to self-improvement in ways that will benefit them during their reign.”
On the other hand, she feels her strengths in the position have more to do with having confidence in her own direction. “The easiest part is putting all the lessons together. It is kind of like adult Legos, building a curriculum that fits together for the goals I have in mind. I love organizing and planning things.”
Because the lessons are all introductory – with many of the elements under construction, like carrying yourself with confidence in unfamiliar scenarios, or understanding how to initiate small talk with children – the payoff isn’t immediate. In fact, most of the instruction the Court is given won’t be put into effect until they get used to community appearances, especially those that are still being held virtually, like library readings.
But that doesn’t mean that Thompson hasn’t already seen her hard work in action.
“I got letters from some of the Princess Candidates the other day, that told me how much they appreciated the time, energy, personal money and experience that I put into the lessons, programs and activities I plan for the court,” Thompson says. “It means the world to me knowing programs like the Festival Closet are making an actual impact, because I remember professional clothing being something just out of reach when I was in their shoes.”
The Festival Closet, a new in-organization platform Thompson brainstormed last year, allowed for donations from local alumnae and Festival supporters to be collected and redistributed to the incoming Court. Together with Marin Sasaki, a fellow Daffodilian and the Queen of Thompson’s 2017 Court, elements of a business casual wardrobe, including shoes, blazers, and more, were made available to the new batch of incoming Royalty, for zero cost.
As the Royal Court is tasked with wearing Business Casual wardrobe during Princess Practices, these items helped to reduce potential barriers within the socioeconomically diverse Court, as well as provide a boost for the high school seniors in the collegiate and job interview processes they’ll encounter in the future.
It’s with that kind of foresight in mind, that Thompson looks at the ways the Royal Court has already started to develop. “It’s also incredibly fulfilling watching them grow in areas that we focus on, or knowing that I’m giving them tools and teaching them to use them well beyond our time, and seeing results during our conversations.”
As we’ve now come to the end of the Princess Practices with the 2022 Promenade – the Royal Court’s official launch onto the community scene for Festival’s season – Thompson has to trust that the skills she’s imbued them with will carry them throughout their Daffodil journey.
However, these young women are still very much at the beginning of learning what they can do with this position. For Thompson, it’s the fact that there’s still so much further to go that makes her excited about seeing what they can really do with a tiara and a fancy yellow dress.
“[Each] of them had different things that I hoped they would take to heart, and develop as the season goes on. Some of the girls came with amazing confidence, and others came with incredible professional soft skills already. There are candidates that I wanted to [make sure] know that were already amazing Princesses, because of the heart for service that was radiating from them – they just needed to believe it. Some of them just needed a boost to sharpen skills they had, and others needed someone to direct their energy into something they could use.
“Overall, I am looking forward to seeing how they use the resources we gave them, into becoming confident and courageous versions of themselves!”
You can see the hard work these young women have been putting in for the last few months firsthand, at this month’s Queen’s Coronation, taking place March 27th, at Silas High School in Tacoma. Information available under the “Events” tab, as well as on social media. Look out for more news regarding our Daffodil Festival Grand Floral Parade, taking place April 9th, to come soon!
Looking to see Princesses in action at your local events? Check the Daffodil Festival Facebook and Instagram pages regularly to keep tabs on upcoming library readings, school visits, and more. Or, if you represent an organization looking to bring members of the Royal Court to your school, business, city event, and more, contact us through our website, and we might be able to schedule an appearance!
Interested in supporting in-organization platforms like the Festival Closet or the Sponsor a Princess campaign? Seeking more information in how to get involved with the Princess Practice program? Looking to fill your time with rewarding positions within the Festival? Check out the “Get Involved” tab on our website, and we’ll make sure to point you in the right direction.