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"Once A Princess, Always A Princess": A Look At the Daffodil Festival's Royalty

Across Pierce County this fall, 24 young women will be selected to be Daffodil Princesses, a role that comes with a sparkly tiara – and great responsibility.

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series about The Puyallup Valley's famed Daffodil Festival. To read part one, go here.

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For a select group of young women, this is where it all begins.

Where they will realize the childhood dream of millions of little girls: to be a princess.

This week kicked off the 2013 Puyallup Valley Daffodil Festival. The princess selections at 24 high schools across Pierce County started Tuesday at Puyallup High School and will conclude on Nov. 27 at Chief Leschi High School. Cascade Christian will select its princess on Monday; Rogers on Oct. 15; and Emerald Ridge on Nov. 8. All selections begin at 7 p.m. at the schools.

Daffodil Princess candidates are nominated by their schools – some girls are selected by the faculty; others are voted in by their peers. These girls are among their school's best and brightest seniors. They are good students. They are involved in their communities. They are future doctors and teachers and maybe the first female president.

The candidates are asked to prepare a one-minute speech on that year’s festival theme. And on a chilly fall night, dressed in their finest eveningwear, they deliver the speech and answer an impromptu question in front of their families, friends and the judges.

The 2013 theme is “The Magic of Music,” and on Thursday night at Stadium High School, Carly Knox triumphed over three classmates with her speech about using music for healing.

“Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring (back) memories,” said Knox, an aspiring buyer for Nordstrom who plans to study business and marketing at the University of Washington.

Knox stood out in her speech by using a specific example of how music impacted one life: a man suffering from severe dementia was able to connect with others after hearing music.

“Music brought life back to him, even through his illness,” she said. “This is the magic of music.”

~ Women of substance ~

Knox is a prime example of the high-quality candidates the Daffodil Festival attracts: She holds a 3.91 grade-point average, is president of Stadium’s choir, a member of National Honor Society and represents her school on Nordstrom’s teen fashion board.

And it’s clear she is a strong-minded young woman. Asked about women’s societal rights and responsibilities in her impromptu question, she replied that women have the right to have an education – and to think for themselves.

“To become a woman of substance,” she said, “she must have humility – and she also must have her own opinions.”

After the selection, Knox stood cradling a bouquet of flowers, her eyes as sparkly with exhilaration as the tiara sitting atop her hair.

“It’s so surreal,” she said. “I’m so excited and really emotional right now.”

She added that her three competitors are all “so nice and so well-rounded.”

“It’s a great responsibility and I will be able to fulfill it and hopefully bring honor to Stadium,” she said. “It’s been a dream of mine as long as I’ve been going here.”

Alexus Reyes, the newly crowned princess for Washington High School, said that she has also had longtime aspirations of becoming a Daffodil Princess.

“I feel so honored and blessed to be able to represent my school,” she said. “This was a dream of mine – since eighth grade.”

Still, Reyes said, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to pull it off.

“I was so surprised,” she said. “I didn’t even hear my name at first. I almost cried.”

Steve James, the Daffodil Festival’s executive director, said that is most rewarding to watch how the girls blossom throughout the year. The Daffodil Princesses not only become ambassadors – to both the festival and Pierce County – but they also learn to be strong public speakers, they come out of their shells, and they are exposed to people of all ages and from all walks of life.

“This gives them all the opportunity to play on an even playing field,” he said of the months leading up to the queen’s coronation. “Some may come who are shy, some may have pageant experience, but this evens them out and we get to watch them grow, both individually and as a court.”

Referencing Stadium’s 2012 princess, Savannah Fry, who delivered a farewell speech both poised and emotional prior to her successor’s crowning, he added, “A year ago, she couldn’t have made that speech.”

~ A memorable experience ~

Fry, now a freshman at the University of Washington, said that her year as a princess has been “a bit of a ride.”

“There are so many ways you can look at it,” she said. “You can say it’s the greatest experience you’ve ever been a part of. I mean, we’ve met so many amazing people through it, and the experience is something I am so happy to have.”

Sumner High School’s 2012 princess, Carly Lange, felt similarly.

“It was a lot of hard work, but there was never a moment when I thought, 'I wish I wasn’t doing this',” she said. “Every single moment I was so happy to be a princess.”

Sherry Stevens, who, as the wife of 2013 Festival President Brad Stevens, is this year’s First Mother, said she is very familiar with the Daffodil mystique. She was Lincoln High School’s princess in 1978, and their daughter, Nicole, represented Wilson High School in 2003.

“I love it,” she said. “It has just been a really important part of my life. My family has gone from playing in the (parade) band to being princesses and now I can give back something.”

Stevens said that naturally, things have changed since her reign.

“We did great things back then; don’t get me wrong – but the forward momentum we’ve got going right now is impressive and I’m looking forward to where we’re going and what can do for the girls.”

The main change is that the Daffodil Festival now has a major community service component. The 2012 court did more than 200 appearances – up from about 40 a few years ago – and more than 80 percent were with children.

Lange said that it is eye-opening to see what a difference the famed yellow dress and tiara made when it came to interacting with her community.

“It can evoke the imagination of a child,” she said. “It’s so powerful.”

So powerful, in fact, that even when their reign is over, that royal feeling remains.

“Once a princess … “ Fry began.

Lange finished, “ … Always a princess.”

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