Queen’s Coronation 2021: A Lesson in Resiliency

A close-up on the Queen’s sash, as well as the historical scepter, robe, and crown, the latter three of which are only used at this annual Festival event. [photo courtesy of Jeff Ritter]
You know what they say: the more things change, the more things stay the same. On Monday, April 26th, the Daffodil Festival’s Queen’s Coronation reflected the difficulties of living through the past year in a pandemic, while still continuing to celebrate the achievements of a whole new class of Daffodil Princesses.

Clan Gordon was still in attendance, represented via a lone bagpiper who dutifully heralded the arrival of past Royalty. Kerry Yanasak was there to play piano, as he has been doing for Queen’s Coronation for over 25 years, a mask covering his face while his fingers flew across the keyboard between speeches. Farm 12 served as host to the event, the same space where Princess Promenade had also occurred only a little over a month before, thanks to its easy capacity for socially-distanced audiences.

The emcee quipped that 2019 Queen Katie Gilbert had helped take everyone’s temperatures on the way in, the only Queen in recent memory with a two-year reign: the onset of Covid-19 had waylaid plans for a 2020 Queen’s Coronation, so Katie had never been able to pass on her title. At the end of the night, she would finally be able to relinquish her crown and give a farewell speech, one over a year in the making.

But even with the socially-distanced seating, attendance limits, and fully masked audience, the show still went on. After all, this Festival had a Queen to crown.

The Night’s Proceedings

For those familiar with the Daffodil Festival season, Queen’s Coronation is actually one in a line of events in the process to designate the next monarch. By Monday night, the twenty-three senior ladies had already met judges in both an informal, get-to-know-you group setting, as well as individual panel-run interviews, both facilitated by virtual connections on Zoom.

However, at Queen’s Coronation, the Princesses no longer interact with only a panel of judges, but instead, perform for a crowd, one made up of Daffodilians, family, local dignitaries, and friends of the Festival. They each deliver a one-minute-long speech oriented around the Festival’s annual theme, as well as answer an impromptu question. From these deliberations, is borne a Queen.

Each year, as the Princesses walk in, a short bio is read, introducing their background, history with the Festival, and aspirations for the future. As for the Court of 2021, their sights are wide in scope and ambition: some will venture on to join the Air Force academy, or pursue degrees in the fields of psychology, biology, political science, and nonprofit management. What must certainly be a record number of Princesses are planning on career experiences in education, particularly in the hopes of working with elementary school students.

In terms of passion projects, these Princesses aren’t short on them either: their leadership positions range from Associated Student Body to American Sign Language, and their athletic pursuits, from cheerleading to wrestling champs.

After the events of the past year, it’s no surprise that many of the introductions on Monday night were dotted with messages of optimism and recognition of the struggles of 2020, with a focus on bringing smiles back to the community, and serving as dutiful representatives for the county they call home.

Some reflected on memories of attending Daffodil Grand Floral Parades of the past; especially potent, as the 23 have just come fresh off volunteering hours staffing this year’s stationary parade at the Washington State Fairgrounds the previous two weekends. Others took the chance to reflect on the first time they met a Princess, a sense of wonder expressed numerous other times throughout the evening’s speeches, as they gushed over meeting the other members of the Royal Court in their own season.

The 2021 Court listens attentively to their fellow Princesses during the evening’s speech portion. [photo courtesy of Jeff Ritter]
Their speeches – oriented around the 2021 Festival theme, “Reach for Your Star” – were similarly varied: one Princess demonstrated her rap skills, while another joked that reaching for the stars is a little more difficult at 5’3” height. Others delivered messages of hope and positivity, expressing the difficulties of loss in the past year, the value of friendship within the Royal Court, or importance of serving as a voice for the underrepresented. Many included quotes from those who have inspired them in their own journeys, one even partially delivered in Spanish.

However, it’s not just about a prepared speech, but how quick the Court can think on their feet, as well.  The impromptu question – “If you were interviewing candidates for the position of Daffodil Princess, what qualities would you look for, and why?” – elicited all kinds of responses from the royalty.

Integrity. Strength. Honesty. Humility. A sense of selflessness; someone who includes others. A heart for service. Passion, loyalty, and kindness. Someone genuine, well-spoken, confident, compassionate, loving. A good friend, someone who can make anyone smile. Someone resilient.

It was like a roster of all the best qualities of the 2021 Court, especially as they took to the stage. Some stumbled in their speeches but still bounced back, or got flustered and took a pause to catch their breath, quickly launching again into the stream of their message. They laughed off mistakes, held their head high, and made sure to deliver what they needed to say, before they retired to the audience, to watch and listen as the rest of the Royalty gave their own speeches, as well.

Soon enough, it was time for votes to be tallied, which gave the opportunity to honor those special guests in attendance: the judging panel. The 2021 judges included the likes of former Washington State Senator Hans Zeiger; Marine Corps veteran and Diverse Community Connectors CEO, JMarie Johnson; events and promotions manager for the Old Cannery, Jackie Walls; Jim Masura, a retired Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force; and Seafair Commodore Gary Stenberg.

The last order of business before the new Miss Congeniality and Queen could be named, was in finally retiring the reign of Queen Katie Gilbert. She joked that it had certainly been a long time coming, and that she especially appreciated everyone in attendance, including those who were watching through the Facebook livestream of the event, as well. As the first-ever Queen from White River High School, she had watched over not only her own year, but paid witness to the loss of the 2020 Court, who, despite the turmoil of the pandemic, had still taken on what events they could, be it a socially-distanced car parade, or hosting readings online through the Festival’s partnership with Tacoma Public Libraries. She urged the young women of the Court to similarly make best use of their time with the Festival, and do what they could in the unique positions they hold within their community.

And the Tiara Goes To…

Queen Katie Rose and Princess Guadalupe are all smiles after being awarded their new titles! [photo courtesy of Hana Hong]
Finally, the titles were announced: the honored signification of Miss Congeniality was given to Princess Guadalupe of Sumner High School, which comes with a generous scholarship supplied by the Shipmates of the Tacoma Yacht Club.

For Princess Guadalupe, her own Daffodil journey was started by a close connection to past Royalty: the 2017 Sumner High School Princess, Elizabeth Larios. “She has been a long-time family friend and has easily become my biggest mentor. She was always encouraging me to go for Daffodil even though I was still in 8th grade, but after each year Sumner held their Selection Night, this ‘joke’ of ours, started to become my goal.”

Now that Princess Guadalupe is on the Court herself, her aspirations are still rooted in personal relationships, and especially, the communities she represents. “My heart is set on helping the community, but I feel it is my duty to serve the minorities more intentionally. Being a Hispanic woman in the US, I have felt the emotions of being silenced at times when I needed my voice to be heard. I love to embrace my culture and I hope to learn more about the stories of everyone around me. I look forward to bringing together the community in places we desperately need to connect.”

The grand title of Daffodil Festival Queen was awarded to Katie Rose of Puyallup High School, an aspiring documentarian with a love of history. She plans on attending school across the pond at either the University of York or King’s College London, a feat that will no doubt be helped along by the generous Queen’s scholarship awarded by the Washington State Fair Foundation.

Queen Katie Rose looking regal in the historical tiara and robe of the Daffodil Festival Queen. [photo courtesy of Jeff Ritter]
Ties to the Daffodil Festival run deep in Puyallup, so it’s no surprise that Queen Katie Rose had already gotten involved by the time she decided to run for her high school’s Princess title. “I have grown up with the Daffodil Festival and Grand Floral Parade in and around the community, but I didn’t really understand it as more than that until I got to High School. A dear friend of mine, Simone Stapley, had run to be Princess her senior year and recommended I help out as a production assistant. This is when I met Princess Cara Brauen. She, to me, embodied what the Festival was all about. Her kindness drew me into the Daffodil Festival and that is when I began to follow and fall in love with the work the Festival and Princesses do. I began to understand how large our impact was, and what we mean to our community.”

Queen Katie Rose marks the first Queen from Puyallup High School since the late 1980s. In her acceptance speech, she acknowledged the long legacy of the Daffodil Festival in her hometown, and how thankful she is to be a part of the 2021 Court.

And with that, the Daffodil Festival can really get underway: while there are still plenty of restrictions in place for Pierce County, and the Royalty’s summer schedule is still in development, the Court finally has a Queen, one that feels prepared to weather the challenges ahead.

For Queen Katie Rose, the difficulties faced during the Covid-19 pandemic are intrinsic to her goals for leading the Court with grace during the festival season. “In a different year, I think the impact I would have wanted to make would be different. Yet, in the midst of this extremely turbulent and scary time with the pandemic, I think the best thing I can do is just make sure everyone I interact with feels heard, loved, and connected.

“COVID-19 has isolated us all, and continues to push us apart, even as we try to stay together as a community. Every person that myself and my fellow princesses interact with should leave feeling a little more loved and happy than in the moments before.”

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