The 81st annual Daffodil Festival Queen’s Coronation took place on April 1 at the Pantages Theater in downtown Tacoma. The event is an annual celebration of the Royal Court, the highlight of which is the selection of the new Queen from amongst the 23 Princesses.
Princess Katie Meinecke, from Fife High School, says the young women pumped themselves up for the event by reminding themselves of all that they had already achieved. “We reminded each other when we got nervous that there is no way to lose Coronation, because every girl still gets to be a Princess.”
“We have all come such a long way since Promenade,” said Stadium High School Princess Bridget Gray. “It’s great to show our growth as a Court, and as individuals. We are at the heart of our season, with the Parade coming up, so it’s a way to show who the Princesses are.”
The young women go through a series of judging events the week prior, starting with an informal judging conversation-based event that allows the judges to meet the girls, and see how they interact as a Court. Formal judging finds each girl placed in front of the complete judging panel and asked a series of questions, involving their experiences with the Festival and what the title means to them.
The week culminates in the annual Coronation event, where family, friends and the communities each Princess represents gather to listen to each of the 23 give a one-minute speech around the year’s theme, as well as answer an impromptu question.
“Through the different events and service opportunities, the community got to know us as the Princesses,” said Princess Leilani Espino from Mt. Tahoma High School. “Coronation night gave us each the chance to highlight who we are individually.”
The Daffodil theme for the Festival’s 84th year was “Daffodil Paradise,” chosen by 2017 Festival President Ernie Ouellette.
But before any of the Princesses could give their speeches, they took to the stage to perform their song and dance routine, to the tune of Meghan Trainor’s “I Feel Better When I’m Dancing.” This was a surprise to the longtime Festival fans in the audience, as it is typically reserved until after the judging portion.
Princess Tallia Campbell, from Chief Leschi High School, recounts the excitement of helping open the evening’s events with a musical number. “Little did you know, we tiptoed onto stage, trying to be sneaky without anyone knowing, which made it even more fun!”
In their speeches, the Princesses took varied approaches to the Festival theme, talking about everything from sandy beaches, to interacting with children in various community projects, to spending time with their fellow Princesses.
For Princess Naravie Phaisan, from Lincoln High School, her speech involved themes of interconnectedness and unity. “It was about people working together, instead of angst. That’s really important to me, because I feel like there is so much hate in the world and everyone is always competing to be the best, that we often forget that our real objective is to just help better the world… be better people, giving back to our community.”
When it came to finding inspiration for her own speech, Foss High School’s Princess Thipsuda Srinakrung – who goes by Mook – didn’t have to look that far, because he was sitting in the audience: “My speech was directed at my dad. He wasn’t able to make it to my school selection, but that day he was able to hear the speech, as it was meant for him in the first place.”
The impromptu question – about what each Princess thought her best leadership quality was, and how it would help her effectively lead her Court, should she be chosen – illustrated many of the reasons these girls were on stage that night, demonstrating not just confidence and poise, but an unshakeable drive to do good in the world, and the skills they had to make a difference.
Princess Leilani said that the impromptu question was important not just for differentiating the talents of each member of the Royal Court, but because it really challenged her and the other Princesses “to think about how we can best serve and support each other.”
The question is well in keeping with the Daffodil Royalty Program’s perspective of being servant leaders first, Princesses second, with which the royalty themselves would easily agree. “I would say we’re extremely determined,” said Princess Naravie. “We all have high goals for ourselves and each other. With that, we’re all really supportive of one another and our futures… we’re all there for the experience, to learn and grow as people.”
The event was emceed by KING 5 News’ Chris Egan and his brother, Microsoft’s Mike Egan, who cracked jokes and kept the crowd entertained while also updating the audience to the progression of some of the night’s key basketball games.
Congressman Denny Heck carried forward the sports talk by briefly exiting the stage in the midst of his own speech after the end of the judging portion, only to return clad in Gonzaga fan gear.
However, for Princess Amaya Fox from Wilson High School one of the night’s most memorable moments didn’t take place on stage. “We all gathered together, had a big group hug, and then held each other’s hands and danced for a good five minutes. In that moment, I could feel the stress and pressure melt away, and in its place, was happiness and love.”
Princess Mook found her Coronation calm in her 22 fellow royals, too. “We went over our speeches, stressed out about how fast the line was moving, and ate until our dresses reminded us how much we can actually fit in our stomachs.”
For the second year in a row, the positions of second and first runner-up were not announced, as a show of solidarity amongst the Court. This comes in addition to another aberration to contemporary Daffodil tradition, as the Daffodil Queen will not be wearing a white dress for the rest of the Festival season, as she has in years past. (Read more about it in the special Daffodil Festival section in this issue of the Tacoma Weekly!)
When asked about the tight-knit bonds that drive the Daffodil Royal Court, Princess Katie said, “It’s very crucial to the success of the Festival and for our roles as Princess that we give nothing but love and support for one another. That way, we can fully exemplify what being a Daffodil Princess means – serving and caring for the community.”
“It is important that the entire Princess group remains a team, because we’re all here to help our community, and support the Festival, together,” said Princess Tallia. “The places where we get to go, people we get to meet and help, wouldn’t be the same without our whole Court.”
Princess Meghan LaLiberte from Rogers High School was voted Miss Congeniality from among her Princess peers, and will receive an additional scholarship sponsored by the Tacoma Yacht Club.
In the end, Orting High School Princess Marin Sasaki was awarded the title of Queen.
Princess Bridget was quick to offer high praise of the newly minted monarch. “Marin is a great young woman,” she said. “She is so passionate about all the work we do, and I know she is going to work hard and represent us all very well.”
Each Princess receives a $2,000 scholarship, granted by the Daffodil Scholarship Foundation, while the Queen is awarded $5,000 from the Washington State Fair Foundation.
When asked what advice she would give future Daffodil Princesses on the evenings of their own Coronation, Princess Amaya emphasized the importance of their original title, before that of the Queen. “No matter what happens, no matter which girl is chosen to serve as Queen, each and every Princess will wake up the next day still a Princess, who is still able to serve as ambassadors and who are still important to the Festival, and to the community.”
For Princess Leilani, the only thing on her mind after Coronation, was all the work that still lies ahead. “When I got home, I put all of my Daffodil attire in one spot, as I would need to wake up early the next morning, for even more upcoming Daffodil events… I am so happy for the bonds we have as the 2017 Court, and how excited we all are for our new Queen!”
Because most of the Daffodil Festival’s community events take place during the spring, Coronation is only one in a long line of events including the Grand Floral Parade, coming up on Saturday, April 8.
Princess Katie has her own special reason to look forward to the Grand Floral Parade: it’s her first! “This will actually be my first Daffodil Parade,” she confessed, “and I am so excited to be able to view my community from this perspective!”
“Of course, I am super excited for the Parade!” exclaimed Princess Tallia. “I have grown up watching the parades, meeting the Daffodil Princesses, and being able to ride on my school’s float for the Parade many times throughout my childhood. It makes me really happy knowing I’m a part of the Festival.”