The flower-bedecked ride down Colorado Boulevard, the parade crowds, the band music, and of course the sparkling crown on her head, are all part of what Nadia Chung will remember about her reign as the 2022 Rose Queen.
But the shimmery white mask she wore down the parade route — a perfect match to her satin gloves and gown — was one indication that this new year was different. Two pandemic years and an ominous new variant in the offing could have taken the bloom off the 133rd Rose Parade and 108th Rose Bowl.
But Chung, 17, and her Rose Court, who earned praise for their grace and maturity in the 100 or so community events they attended since their selection, said navigating court season amid a pandemic came down to the group’s youthful confidence.
“I’m honored that people commented on our demeanor of poise, and we did take etiquette classes, but a big part of it was us trying to represent the theme, ‘Dream, Believe, Achieve,’” the La Cañada High School senior said a few days after the spectacle was staged — like clockwork — as the world watched on TV. “We’re all big optimists, and we all lean on each other and support each other.”
Chung and her court won rave reviews for their grace and patience during perhaps the most challenging Rose Parade season ever.
The Pasadena tradition returned Saturday after the cancellation of the 2021 parade, its first no-go since World War II. Tournament and local public health and safety officials acknowledged the inherent risks of gathering for the parade and game, but planners said they relied on a feasibility study by USC Keck School of Medicine and strictly aligned with the county’s public health safeguards.
In the end, crowds were visibly smaller than during a pre-pandemic year — with some fans able to wander in for a front-row seat just before launch time. But that’s appropriate, many acknowledged, because officials warned high-risk residents to stay home (and folks who attended to make sure they were vaccinated and wearing facemasks). The COVID news, meanwhile, continued to be grim over the weekend, with Los Angeles County posting 23,553 new coronavirus cases on parade day and another 21,000 on Sunday as the highly transmissible omicron variant continued to fuel unnerving caseloads around the region.
Amid the concerns, Team Royal Court navigated the daily headlines and safety precautions and performed their duties, sans hiccups.
Chung said she woke up at 1:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day, and watched the sun rise during a flag-raising ceremony on the front lawn of Tournament House.
“It was as perfect as it could have been, the sun was rising in the horizon just at that moment, with the sky all pink and orange, it was a beautiful day,” she said. “It was really exciting to be in that moment and realize we got through everything we were facing, seeing all the joy (from people), because we prioritized health.”
Chung and the Royal Court were chosen in October from more than three dozen applicants.
“They were chosen for who they are, how they presented themselves and who we believe they will become, the very best of what our country has to offer,” said Bob Miller, President/Chairman of the Board, Pasadena Tournament of Roses. “They are the embodiment of the theme, ‘Dream, Believe, Achieve.’ Chung is very real on how she comes across, talented, hard-working and not afraid to take on challenges.”
From the start, the group clicked, Chung said. The court includes Abigail Griffith of Pasadena High School; Ava Feldman of South Pasadena High School; Jaeda Walden of La Cañada High School; Jeannine Briggs of John Marshal Fundamental High School; McKenzie Street of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy; and Swetha Somasundaram of Arcadia High.
“We still get together for dinner, we go to PHS (Pasadena High School) basketball games, we text and Facetime,” she said. “When we say we’re friends for a lifetime, we mean it.”
Their final commitment is in February, on the day Chung turns 18. It will be another exciting transition.
“I’ve learned so many lessons,” she said of her life as Rose Queen. “I learned our community is so much more connected than I ever knew. I met so many people connected to the Tournament of Roses. The world feels a lot smaller.”
She can point to her own memories now of the singular start to her 2022 as proof that optimism can bloom in adversity. It all depends on one’s perspective.
“It was certainly an untraditional New Year’s Day,” Chung said, “but it was the best.”
Anissa V. Rivera, columnist, “Mom’s the Word,” Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News, Azusa Herald, Glendora Press and West Covina Highlander, San Dimas/La Verne Highlander. Southern California News Group, 605 E. Huntington Drive, Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016. 626-497-4869.