Maybe because we’ve had a particularly wet winter and a worse political season, the Daffodil Festival — Pierce County’s rite of spring that culminates with this Saturday’s four-city parade — seems as welcome as the sun itself.
Sure, the daffodil fields are all but gone, so asking people to get excited about a festival without the homegrown flower feels a bit like asking people to get excited about Seafair without the boats, or Wenatchee’s Apple Blossom Festival without the featured fruit.
It’s no secret that some bloom has been off the Daffodil Festival for a while. Over the years, The News Tribune has lamented lower attendance and financial support.
But we contend this staple of spring should live on.
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Once upon a time the Daffodil Festival put us on the map. Life Magazine and National Geographic did pictorials of the endless yellow fields, the freckle-faced kids lining the parade route, the royal court doing their slow wax-on, wax-off princess waves.
Though a league of faithful volunteers still keeps the festival going, the tradition will never be quite what it was. But that’s not all bad news.
Consider this lead from a 1964 Tacoma News Tribune story on the festival’s princesses: “Judges, like other gentlemen, prefer blondes…tall, lovely blondes.” The article went on to describe the physical features of some of the 17-year-old princesses vying to be queen.
In an age of women who run companies or run for president, anything that resembles a cattle-auction beauty pageant is cringe-worthy. Even the Miss America pageant knows enough to call itself a scholarship pageant.
In Pierce County, the ambassadorial role of the Daffodil Court has remained steadfast for 84 years. Requirements include academic achievement, outstanding communication skills and something called “poise.” What has changed is the patronizing and sometimes debasing attention the young women once received.
This year’s 23 princesses — including the new queen, Marin Sasaki of Orting High School — were chosen to represent their schools and communities because they’re already agents of change. Hardly shrinking violets, these girls are valued for speaking their minds.
One member of last year’s court, 19-year-old Kelty Pierce, recently met with members of Congress to speak on behalf of the Affordable Care Act.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck of Olympia recognized Pierce’s ability to reach an audience and invited her to Washington, D.C. to participate in a roundtable event. Through personal experience, the Puyallup High School graduate and University of Washington student has become an expert on health care.
Cinthia Illan-Vazquez, a member of the 2012 court, was the featured speaker at this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in Lakewood. Melanie Stambaugh, the 2009 festival queen, is serving her second term in the state House of Representatives.
Like hundreds of princesses before them, these young women stepped off the parade float and are making inroads in many sectors of society.
In this respect, the Daffodil Festival is holding fast to the best tradition has to offer, while letting some of the rest fade away.