A year has passed since 2022 Rose Queen Nadia Chung and her court endured four months of intensity unlike anything a high school senior ever experiences.
For the Queen and her Court, there are upwards of 144 public appearances over those few months. All of that, on top of the rigors of high school’s final year and the college application process.
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That 2022 court was the first to receive one-on-one coaching from mental health clinicians courtesy of the Pasadena-based nonprofit Sycamores, a partner with Tournament of Roses Association.
Having that outsider’s perspective really helped, said Jaeda Walden, as she huddled with four other members of the 2022 Rose Court watching Monday’s 134th Rose Parade from low bleachers.
Ava Feldman agreed.
“It’s a lot at once,” Feldman said about the experience of being on the Royal Court.
And, to manage that onslaught of responsibility, the Tournament of Roses enlisted partner Sycamores, a nonprofit whose primary mission is to provide and advocate for mental health services.
“Wellness services are important,” said Shannon Boalt, Sycamores chief advancement officer. Tournament officials reached out to them for help, she said, because youth in general have a tough time these days, let alone adding the rigors of Royal life.
The program is simple. One Sycamores female clinician is paired with one Royal Court member. That first year — amidst the pandemic — sessions were online. Girls were given as many sessions as they needed, to manage their commitments and concerns.
Marisa Perez-Martin, a Sycamore’s licensed marriage and family therapist, was paired with Chung, last year’s Queen.
In addition to helping Chung juggle everything, Court commitments, attending class, studying, college applications, she said there was one more important thing the sessions stressed:
“And at the same time, reminding yourself that you’re having this incredible experience was key,” Perez Martin said.
Chung, who watched Monday’s parade from Spain where she is competing in a debate tournament for Stanford, said Perez-Martin was incredibly kind and receptive. The clinician helped Chung balance a challenging course load and Court responsibilities in a unique way.
“My clinician never told me what to do,” Chung said. “She would ask questions which prompted me to make my own decisions.”
Thus, said Chung, the now-college freshman developed decision-making skills and taught her to “not look at decisions in such a binary way.”
For example, Chung was stressed during her reign about whether to take AP Calculus. Perez-Martin gave her perspective: It’s one class during one semester in high school. Her life wouldn’t be altered.
Chung wound up finding an even better alternative. She opted not the take the AP class, but instead did an independent study project in Calculus.
Much of the counseling, said Perez-Martin, is advising the girls to stay in the moment.
“Just really staying in the present and focusing on that,” Perez-Martin said, “and then just taking time to take care of themselves” was important.
To maintain a balancing act among Court, school, family and friends was not always easy, said Chung. When asked what was tough for her during last year’s lead up to Jan. 1, the normally chatty Chung, paused for many seconds.
“The most difficult thing was wanting to make sure that I wasn’t neglecting or failing to give consideration to any of the activities or any of the people who were most important to me.”
Indeed, Perez-Martin said Chung is just a really thoughtful, innate communicator. The former Queen wrote notes to teachers and school counselors to ensure she kept up with her connections.
“Nadia is so driven,” she said. “There’s a part of her that would use some of the accommodations, but still do the best in everything she does.”
And, said Perez-Martin, when a person is stressed, it’s very easy not to communicate.
As mental health awareness has increased across the country, especially for youth who endured years of isolation and online schooling, the Tournament of Roses recognizing the need and putting a program in place was important, said Perez-Martin.
“It’s definitely innovative and moving forward,” she said of the new program. It feels as if it’s well rounded, she said.
The stigma over seeking mental health services, especially for youth, has started to wane and Perez-Martin credited the school system with leading the way.
Youth are finding more and more mental health services and social services directly on school campuses and there are also peer support groups popping up.
For example, she said, at South Hills High School in West Covina, administrators have implemented a QR code that students can scan. The code connects them directly with a peer who they can talk to about issues. If there’s a need for adult or professional intervention, then someone else can be brought in.
For Quinn Young, 2009’s Rose Queen, the onus was on her and family members to ensure she kept on top of school work and other obligations. A wellness coach would have really helped, she said.
“I think having someone as a middleman between my teachers and the Rose Court could’ve been helpful,” Young said. “It was on me to keep up with school and make sure I was getting all my assignments, which was sometimes tricky.”
Like many other Court members, the Rose experience was one of growth for Young.
“My self confidence grew, I met tons of new people, and it really prepared me for adulthood,” said Young, who after attending LeHigh University, is currently a talent agent with The Wall Group.
“It made me a more outgoing, philanthropic and mature person,” Young said of her time on the Royal Court.
The former Queen said she wished the mental health resources had been offered more than a decade ago for her and her court.
” I can only imagine how hard it’s been for court members over the years,” Young said. “Having someone to talk to if need be is an amazing thing.”
Talking out issues, for Chung and her court, happened constantly amongst the young women. They all became friends almost immediately, she said, and it was one of the best parts of the experience.
“On a day when one of us was not feeling great, we were all very willing to talk to one another,” Chung said. The Tournament of Roses committee members ensured that family atmosphere prevailed, she added.
“You never felt like you were talking to strangers,” said Chung, of her court. “It all felt very much like home.”
Chung, and her court, still text each other on a group thread.
As the five 2022 court members watched their predecessors “Turn the Corner” at the 134th Rose Parade, Feldman reminisced about her time and the pressures she felt.
“The Court is your whole life for those four months,” Feldman said. “It was just easy to feel overwhelmed.”
Former Queen Young echoed the sentiment.
“These girls are working tirelessly for months on end and it’s only natural that they would be overwhelmed,” Young said.
As for mental health?
“There shouldn’t be any stigma,” Young said.