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Parade brings sunshine on a rainy day

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While the weather may have been a little rainy on April 11, the Daffodil Festival still spread some sunshine of its own throughout the four Pierce County cities of Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner and Orting during the 82nd Annual Grand Floral Parade, in keeping with their theme for the festival year, “Shine Your Light with Service.”

Did all that bad weather deter any of the Daffodil Royalty from their big celebration? Not for Princess Emily Inskeep from Chief Leschi High School. “The rain can’t stop a good time!”

In fact, that storminess only heightened the appreciation the princesses had for those who still came out to support.

Princess Athena Sok, from Lincoln High School, was grateful for all those she knew along the parade routes. “I felt incredibly blessed and touched by the community that came to support, rain or shine… it was relieving to know that many people watching the parade enjoyed it as much as we did.”

And what about the enjoyment of those princesses, you might ask? “[We] kept smiling and waving and having so much fun. The rain actually made us closer. We hugged each other to keep warm, and ran to the bus for shelter. Then the sunshine made it even better when it came out for us in Puyallup.”

For Stadium High School’s Princess Pelumi Ajibade, that rain and hail meant a lot more than just a soggy float, but a measurement of their success in the face of adversity.

“I thought that first leg just exemplified all that we do as a big yellow family. Those struggles that we faced… the hail and the rain mixed with the blue sky is stressful, yes, but we kept a smile on our faces the entire time.”

The parade serves as the highlight of the tremendous journey the princesses embark on over the course of their senior year in high school. Mt. Tahoma High School’s Princess Shannon Woods could tell you all about it.

“This was the highlight for me because it was fun to see our community come as a whole to celebrate a great tradition. The absolute joy of experiencing this with my 23 sisters was phenomenal.”

Those 23 Daffodil Princesses have run quite the gauntlet: they were selected by their respective high schools of origin in October and November, went through princess trainings in December and January, made their official debut with Princess Promenade in February, and celebrated the official Coronation for the Queen of the Festival year in March.

So far, these intrepid young achievers have taken part in over 186 public appearances as princesses of the Daffodil Festival, including regular volunteering opportunities with Pierce County Libraries and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pierce County. Recently, they met with servicemen and women at Joint Base Louis-McChord, a partnership partially fostered by the festival’s annual “Celebrating Military Service” parade, an event occurring each summer since 2013.

Juggling these royal responsibilities with the tasks that come with finishing up high school, such as college acceptances, AP classes, and graduation, is no easy feat, but for these special high school seniors, it’s just one more way to give back to the community that has supported them the whole way.

When you ask the princesses what made the parade so special for them, you’ll see reflected that same sense of service and community.

For Princess Emily, it was seeing just who was lining the parade route. “During all four cities, it was very easy to see that all the children were really excited about the princesses coming around… but what really brought tears to my eyes was seeing the elders straighten in their seats when the queen’s float came by, and they started waving just as enthusiastically as the kids, the biggest grins on their faces.”

It made her reflect on how extensive the festival’s involvement in the community has been over the past eight decades. “It made me wonder how long they’ve been going to the parades; if maybe they remember their first princess from when they were little, how much this has been such a joy in their life.”

Princess Nicole Ripley, from Henry Foss High School, saw it as a challenge to still connect with everyone along the parade route, just like she had been doing before in her princess career thus far. “I really like to use my position as a princess to connect with people on an individual level, and make them feel important personally. That is very hard to do when hundreds line the street, so I did my best.”

How, exactly? “Princess Shannon says I looked as though I were about to fall off the float, because I was leaning out so far to really create that ‘I’m here for you’ feeling.”

Princess Maddi Gordon, from Wilson High School, was floored by the whole experience. “It was unbelievable… I honestly can’t even describe the feeling. It’s like joy, excitement, thankfulness, surprise, just so many emotions at such an elevated level.”

What inspired this speechlessness? “It was crazy… such a tremendous amount of people who supported us and what we do, and I didn’t know that many people cared, let alone knew. It was just an immense feeling of love and gratitude.”

For Princess Pelumi, the parade was just another means of spreading the love.

“I think that even this parade in itself was a way of giving back. We took all that service that we have done… we went out to our community, and I believe the Festival is like a big thank you.”

The reach of that community-wide “thank you” was in part enabled by the Daffodil Festival’s continuing partnership with KING 5 News for the second year, broadcasting two full hours of the event on air via sister channel KONG 6/16. The television event was, in part, narrated by Daffodil mainstay Chris Egan, who also helped host the Daffodil Festival Coronation this past March in Tacoma’s Pantages Theater. Festival royalty alumnae were also present on parade day, helping carry the banners for the Daffodil Festival, as well as riding on the festival’s traveling float, looking beautiful in blue against the lighthouse at its center. The continued presence of past princesses in the festival experience is one of the most notable extensions of the leadership experience gained through the program.

Parade day also served as the second year of the Daffodil 5k Challenge, conducted by gregarious alumnae charging through the rain to mark off the course. There were some difficulties, as growing pains for the popular event of last year sought to repeat its success.

Once the parade was over, however, the work was not yet finished for the princesses. Their day was followed up by the Marine Parade on Sunday, made possible by the Daffodil Festival’s continued partnership with the Tacoma Yacht Club.

This is just one example of the busy schedule the princesses hold, which won’t be lessened once they start traveling to other festivals throughout the summer. The Daffodil Princesses serve as official ambassadors of Pierce County, as they have since 2012, as proclaimed by the Pierce County Council earlier this year.

Princess Athena is excited for this additional opportunity to spread the word about the great things going on in Pierce County. “I’m excited for the out-of-town parades. I loved meeting the princesses from different festivals at our parade, and I can’t wait to meet them… It’s interesting to find out what other communities are doing, and it’s always great to spread the word about service.”

But for now, Princess Kaitlin Ringus, from Fife High School is still relishing the joy of the parade. “Coming to the parade years after, I will always connect with those princesses on the float and feel that huge sense of community. I will definitely keep coming back… I just feel like I belong here.”