A West Coast Key Clubber reigns as the Rose Queen.
Interview by Julie Saetre
On New Year’s Day, a California Key Club member will reign over a century-old tradition, the Tournament of Roses. Isabella “Bella” Marez, a senior at La Salle High School in Pasadena, is the 2018 Rose Queen, the 100th young woman to hold the title.
The Tournament of Roses celebration includes a parade watched by millions of people around the world and a prestigious university football game played in front of a packed stadium crowd of more than 90,000. But even before January 1, Marez and her Royal Court of six princesses keep a hectic schedule. Key Club magazine caught up with Marez in between her many events to discuss the responsibilities and rewards of being a Rose Queen.
Why did you decide to try out for the Royal Court?
Isabella Marez: I was a student ambassador for the Tournament of Roses. We would go to the parade, volunteer, help direct traffic. That’s what started me getting interested in starting the interview process and becoming a Royal Court member. The (2018) theme also is Making a Difference, and I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t been on the student ambassadors.
What happens after you submit an application?
IM: The selection process is four rounds of interviews. The first round is the initial interview, where you only have 15 seconds to say why you want to be on the Court. That’s all. Fifteen seconds and you’ve got to go. They don’t ask you any questions. They know nothing about you. You are only known as a badge number.
And then the second, third and fourth are one- to two- to three-minute interviews. They get longer as you keep going. And they ask you a variety of questions, from who inspired you to how you handle disappointment. If someone was here in Pasadena, where would you take them and why? You never knew what they were going to ask you, so you had to really think on your feet. And you were also timed, so you could answer one question, or you could answer two to five. I answered five on my (second) round. I was going really fast.
Once the Royal Court is selected, people think you ride in the Rose Parade, attend the game and that’s it. But there’s a lot more to it, right?
IM: Not a lot of people see what we do behind the scenes. Once we’re chosen as a Court, it’s a really crucial two weeks, because we are busy every day. We are doing etiquette training, speech training, media training, how to eat, how to walk, all these things. And we’re getting ready for our wardrobe. We’re getting everything planned out in those two weeks. It really is a lot of effort, and it takes a lot of dedication. Because once I was crowned queen, it was go time. All the training that we were learning, everything that we had done, all the etiquette for dining, came into place.
What have you been doing in these weeks leading up to New Year’s Day?
IM: Once coronation happened, we started going to a lot more events. We are meeting lots of sponsors. We are meeting people who have been involved with the parade about 20, 30 years. It’s such an honor to meet them, and we want to make them proud. We want to represent them well, and ourselves and our schools, most importantly. Our responsibility entails being the young, poised, well-mannered, respectable young women that we were raised to be. We have to be ambassadors for the Tournament of Roses, but also for Pasadena itself. And it does weigh a lot on us. We’re still in high school. We are still seniors. There are some bumps here and there, when we have long days and we’re tired. But at the end of the day, we all remember that our responsibility isn’t about us. It’s about the people we’re representing.
You’re the 100th Rose Queen. Why do you think this is such an enduring custom?
IM: The Rose Queen and the Royal Court is such a long-lasting tradition because of how much it empowers these young women on the Court … And through everything going on in the world, going on in society, no matter what, there’s always a Royal Court. That’s the one thing that’s long-lasting in Pasadena. The Royal Court is a symbol for Pasadena of hope, and it’s a symbol of joy and excitement. And no matter what’s going on, we will still be here, and we will still hold this tradition.
You’re having to miss a lot of classes to participate in Royal Court activities. Have your teachers and school administrators been supportive?
IM: My school goes above and beyond. They truly work with me every step of the way … The teachers want to make sure I’m doing well in school, but enjoying this moment. This is one thing all my advisors tell me: “You can make up homework and assignments. Your teachers will work with you. But you can’t make up this time being on the Royal Court.” I lucked out. My school is with me all the way.
What’s the best part of being Rose Queen so far?
IM: It’s the work we’ve been doing with our charity. This year is the first year the Tournament of Roses has chosen a charity to (receive) funds from the parade, because of the theme Making a Difference. We chose Elizabeth House, which is right in the heart of Pasadena. It’s a home for pregnant, homeless women and children. They help them get back in society, find jobs, find a stable home and raise their children. We went to their Christmas party, the Court and I. We all had our tiaras and our crowns on, and we got to see all the children and all the moms. And it was so much fun. It really warms my heart because of the work they do. A lot of the time, when we donate in our communities, we don’t really see the aftermath of it. And for me, it was nice to see who I’m actually donating my time to meet and help.
Why is service so important to you?
IM: It’s something I’ve always grown up with. People always treated me with kindness and respect and compassion. Part of the reason why I’m so into service is because of my high school. Our school is service-oriented. Our motto is Enter to Learn and Leave to Serve. I’m now the commissioner of service at my high school. But it was also my family that sparked it in me, because of how much they gave me and how much they blessed me. But they also reminded me that just because I have all of these things doesn’t mean I’m entitled to them, doesn’t mean I deserve them. So I have to really honor them and take pride in the things I have, but also take pride in the things I can give to others. That was really why I got into service.
How are you managing to balance all your regular activities with Royal Court duties?
IM: Sometimes I don’t even know. I’ve been playing travel softball for about 10 years, and it really tests your time-management skills. I got used to being able to manage my time doing what I could do at home, doing what I could do in the car on the road, between games during tournaments. All of our coaches have always told us you have to learn to do both. Because in life, you’re going to have to be able to hold a job and have a family or do lots of different things. So I learned time management at a very young age …It’s definitely not easy, but I prioritize. Really, that’s how I get through everything, when I take it one step at a time. I always write (to-do) lists, and the best feeling in the world is crossing something off the list. That’s my favorite thing.
What will be some of your practical takeaways from this experience?
IM: It’s a lot of public speaking. Before you’re chosen for the Court, they say “This is your job. You’re going to have to public speak, you’re going to have to smile on end, you’re going to take lots of photos. You’re saying ‘yes’ to doing this.” I think that public speaking, etiquette, how to address a room, how to introduce yourself—all the little things that we’re learning will help us in the long run, because it’s college interviews, job interviews, talking to our professors, communicating. Those things are going to help us be successful and help me be successful, especially in the line of work I want to do in my future.
What type of work is that?
IM: I plan to study human anatomy and social justice. I want to be a physician’s assistant … I want to be able to use my humanities studies and also the sciences studies to work in refugee camps, immigration camps, health care clinics in low-income countries, especially the Middle East and Latin America. Give immediate medical attention to children and families who don’t usually get it, who are going through crossing the borders or going through moving from place to place because of their situation.
How did you decide on that career direction?
IM: My dad came to America when he was about seven or eight years old from Mexico. Growing up, I heard his and my two uncles’ stories and my grandparents’ stories of their journey to their lives here in America, and it was really hard to hear at times. It was very difficult. And I always had that passion, because no matter what my dad went through when he was young, he made a life for himself. He raised a beautiful family, he has five great kids, he’s so successful in his job, and he’s happy here. And genuinely a person who inspires me. I want to be able to share with other people what I’ve seen my dad do, to show them that it might be bad now, it might not be OK now, but in the future, there is still something to look forward to. I want to give that to people. Hope. I want to give them pride in who they are and own it. And not be discouraged just because a few people may not agree with them or like them. Really, just show them that anywhere you go, you can be happy with yourself … I want to be able to give families like my dad’s family chances and hope.
Any advice for Key Clubbers who want to pursue their own dreams?
IM: Find something that you’re truly passionate about. If you are passionate about it and you have the heart for it, no matter what it is, then you will truly make a difference in someone’s life—whether that’s one person or a million people. If you have the heart in what you want to do, follow that passion and never let it go. If you have passion in what you want to do and how you want to make a difference in the world, then you’ll make a difference.