A year has passed since 2022, Rose Queen Nadia Chung and her court endured four months of intensity unlike anything a high school senior experiences.
For the Queen and her Court, there are more than 144 public appearances in those few months. All of that, plus the rigors of the senior year of high school and the college application process.
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That 2022 court was the first to receive one-on-one training from mental health physicians courtesy of Sycamores, a Pasadena-based nonprofit, a partner of the Tournament of Roses Association.
Getting that stranger’s perspective really helped, Jaeda Walden said, as she joined four other members of the Rose Court 2022 to watch Monday’s 134th Rose Parade from the lower stands.
Ava Feldman agreed.
“It’s a lot at once,” Feldman said of the experience of being at the Royal Court.
And, to handle that onslaught of accountability, the Tournament of Roses enlisted partner Sycamores, a nonprofit organization whose primary mission is to provide and advocate for mental health services.
“Wellness services are important,” said Shannon Boalt, director of development for Sycamores. Tournament officials reached out to them for help, she said, because youngsters generally struggle these days, let alone add the rigors of real life.
The program is simple. A Sycamores clinic is paired with a Royal Court member. That first year, in the midst of the pandemic, the sessions were online. The girls were given as many sessions as they needed to manage their commitments and concerns.
Marisa Perez-Martin, a Sycamore licensed marriage and family therapist, was paired with Chung, last year’s Queen.
In addition to helping Chung juggle everything—court engagements, attending classes, studying, applying to college—he said there was one more important thing that came out of the sessions:
“And at the same time, reminding yourself that you are having this incredible experience was key,” Pérez Martín said.
Chung, who watched Monday’s parade from Spain, where he competes in a debate tournament for Stanford, said Perez-Martin was incredibly kind and responsive. The doctor helped Chung balance the load of demanding courses and court responsibilities in a unique way.
“My doctor never told me what to do,” Chung said. “He asked questions that pushed me to make my own decisions.”
Thus, Chung said, the college freshman developed decision-making skills and taught her “not to look at decisions in such a binary way.”
For example, Chung was stressed during her reign over whether to take AP Calculus. Pérez-Martin gave her perspective: It’s a semester-long class in high school. Her life would not change.
Chung ended up finding an even better alternative. She opted not to take the AP class, instead doing an independent study project in Calculus.
Much of counseling, Pérez-Martin said, is advising girls to stay in the moment.
“Just staying in the present and focusing on that,” Pérez-Martin said, “and then just taking the time to take care of themselves” was important.
Maintaining a balancing act between court, school, family and friends wasn’t always easy, Chung said. When asked what was difficult for her during the run up to January 1 last year, the normally talkative Chung paused for several seconds.
“The hardest thing was wanting to make sure that I wasn’t neglecting or failing to consider some of the activities or some of the people that were most important to me.”
In fact, Pérez-Martin said that Chung is simply a very thoughtful innate communicator. The former queen wrote notes to teachers and school counselors to make sure they kept up with her contacts.
“Nadia is so motivated,” she said. “There’s a part of her that would use some of her adaptations, but she would still do her best in everything she does.”
And, Pérez-Martin said, when a person is stressed, it’s very easy not to communicate.
As awareness of mental health has risen across the country, especially for youth who endured years of online isolation and education, the Tournament of Roses recognizing the need and putting a program in place was important, Pérez said. Martin.
“It’s definitely innovative and moving forward,” he said of the new program. It feels like it’s well rounded, she said.
The stigma around seeking mental health services, especially for youth, has begun to lessen, and Pérez-Martin credited the school system with leading the way.
Young people are increasingly finding mental health and social services directly on school campuses, and peer support groups are also springing up.
For example, he said, at South Hills High School in West Covina, administrators have implemented a QR code that students can scan. The code connects them directly to a partner with whom they can talk about problems. If adult or professional intervention is needed, another person may be brought.
For Quinn Young, 2009’s Rose Queen, the onus fell on her and her family members to make sure she kept up with schoolwork and other obligations. A wellness coach would have really helped, she said.
“I think having someone liaise between my teachers and Rose Court could have been helpful,” Young said. “It was up to me to keep up with school and make sure I was getting all my assignments, which was tricky at times.”
Like many other members of the Court, Rose’s experience was one of growth for Young.
“My self-confidence grew, I met a lot 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 at the Royal Court.
The former queen said she wished mental health resources had been offered more than a decade ago for her and her court.
“I can only imagine how difficult this has been for members of the court over the years,” Young said. “Having someone to talk to if you need to is amazing.”
Talking about trouble, for Chung and his court, happened constantly among 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 wasn’t feeling very well, we were all very willing to talk to each other,” Chung said. Members of the Tournament of Roses committee made sure the family atmosphere prevailed, he added.
“You never felt like you were talking to strangers,” said Chung, of her court. “Everything felt like home.”
Chung and his court still text each other in a group thread.
As the five members of the 2022 court watched their predecessors “Turn the Corner” in the 134th Rose Parade, Feldman recalled his time and the pressures he felt.
“Court is your whole life for those four months,” Feldman said. “It was easy to get overwhelmed.”
The former Queen Young echoed the sentiment.
“These girls are working tirelessly for months and it’s natural for them to feel overwhelmed,” Young said.
As for mental health?
“There shouldn’t be any stigma,” Young said.