First published in the Oct. 6 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.
Excited chatter permeated the dew-tipped morning as the Pasadena Tournament of Roses selected seven young women for its 2023 Royal Court on Monday, including five local students who will serve as ambassadors through dozens of public appearances filled with pomp and splendor.
The lucky local students include Adrian Crick of Sequoyah High School, Zoe Denoncourt of John Marshall Fundamental, Salia Baligh of Alverno Heights Academy, Bella Ballard of the Ogburn Online School and Michelle Cortez-Peralta of Pasadena High School. Rounding out the court include Sahanna Rajinikanthan of Arcadia High School and Uma Wittenberg of La Cañada High School.
Members of the 2023 Royal Court were welcomed into the time-honored fold amid celebratory whoops and cheers from dozens of family and friends gathered on the lawn of the Tournament House.
“We are confident that they will meet every moment, rise to every challenge, and turn every corner with strength, confidence, resilience and grace,” said 2023 Tournament of Roses President Amy Wainscott before announcing the final seven.
This year, the young women were chosen from 28 finalists to represent Tournament of Roses, the Pasadena community and the Greater Los Angeles area in about 100 public media events. The 2023 Royal Court’s grand finale will be riding on a float in the 134th Rose Parade and attending the 109th Rose Bowl game on Monday, Jan. 2. The Tournament has pledged to never hold a parade or game on a Sunday.
The announcement and coronation of the 104th Rose Queen and presentation of the 2023 Royal Court will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 25, on the front lawn.
As the girls’ names were called Monday, they delicately descended the Tournament House’s tiered staircase to receive their deep-red rose bouquets. The first to be called was Sequoyah High School senior Adrian Crick, who paused before taking her place on stage.
“I heard my name and I thought ‘Who’s Adrian? What number am I?… Oh my goodness that’s me!’” Crick said afterward. “It was awesome. I’m so grateful I was chosen. During this time I hope to learn for myself and learn about my community more. Also, I hope I can be a face that people can relate to.”
Crick noted that, as a young Black woman, she knows representation matters. “Maybe there haven’t always been many Black girls on the court; but I also want to represent girls who are interested in STEM or leadership or language learning, I’m interested in all that too, so hopefully just be a person people can relate to and look up to.”
Crick is president of Sequoyah’s STEM Institute, volunteer at the Altadena Library, a teen member of Jack & Jill of America, Inc., band leader, drummer and pianist in the Sequoyah Gryphon Ensemble, student admissions ambassador and grade representative and steering committee member at her school.
John Marshall Fundamental senior Zoe Denoncourt smiled broadly as she cradled her bouquet next to her fellow princesses.
“I’m so shocked and honored to be here. It was unreal, just to hear my name a whole flood of relief rushed over me and I was just so happy and ecstatic,” she said, noting that the process for the court “has prepared me for many future opportunities in life, and helped me grow a lot as an individual.”
Denoncourt is president of the French Club, vice president of Yoga Club, secretary of Orienteering Club, treasurer of her softball team and plays powderpuff and softball.
Nearby, fellow court member Pasadena High School senior Michelle Cortez-Peralta could be overheard giving an interview in fluent Spanish.
“It’s been a very exciting time, although waiting for the emails was tough … I would look at them through an angle because I couldn’t bear to see if I had made it on to the next level or not,” she said, laughing. “During this process, I hope to be a role model for first-generation Latina women who have struggles and who are hoping to persevere and go to college.”
Cortez-Peralta is president and founder of the Girls Learning Internal (GLI) Club, Student Board representative, a member of the California Scholarship Federation, TRIO Upward Bound at Cal State Los Angeles, co-captain of the girls’ varsity tennis team and a member of the baking club, tutoring club and the Creative Arts Media and Design Academy at her high school.
Other 2023 Royal Court members include:
Alverno Heights Academy senior Salia Baligh, who lives in Pasadena. She is captain of the school basketball team, Senior Class secretary and treasurer, president of the ASL Club, an Alverno Ambassador, vice president of the Fashion Club, member of the Social Justice Club, member of the Science Club, member of Bake a Change Charity and a track and field athlete.
Altadena resident Bella Ballard is a senior at the Ogburn School, a distance learning school. She is a volunteer with Ronald McDonald House Charities, a volunteer soccer coach with Chelsea Football Club, a soccer player at Santa Clara Blue Heat Football Club, West Coast Football Club, Venice Beach Football Club, a street soccer player and a tennis player at the Arroyo Seco and Flint Canyon Tennis Clubs.
Royal Court members will each receive a $7,500 educational scholarship. The young women were selected for qualities that exemplify character, service and leadership modeled through their commitment to family, school and community.
Applicants from 30 Pasadena-area schools participated in the interview process, and volunteer members of the Tournament of Roses’ Queen and Court Committee selected the Royal Court based on several criteria, including public speaking ability, academic achievement, youth leadership, and community and school involvement.