Cleveland grad picked ‘Queen of Rosaria’

You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at what its like for a SE Portland area teenager to be named as the Portland Rose Festival Queen, when you read this story …

Cleveland High’s Portland Rose Festival Princess, Marshawna Williams, greets the Memorial Coliseum crowd.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
By now, getting up early in the morning wasn’t unusual for this 18-year-old Cleveland High School senior. For weeks, Marshawna Williams, the school’s 2008 Portland Rose Festival Princess, arose at the crack of dawn to participate in a wide variety of activities, along with other princesses on the Rose Festival Court.

On June 7, when Williams rolled out of bed at the pre-dawn hour of 4:00 a.m., she didn’t know her life was about to change. At 9:12 a.m., Williams was crowned Queen Marshawna, the second Cleveland grad in three years to earn the honor of representing Portland Rose Festival for the next twelve months.

Tens of thousands of people watching TV saw Queen Marshawna briefly take the throne set up in the middle of Memorial Coliseum, be given the crown and scepter, and then ride off on a float in the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.

Moments after being named “Queen Marshawna” of this year’s Rose Festival, Williams is at a near loss for words.

Caught up in a flood of emotions, Queen Marshawna wipes a tear from her eye.

A royal interview

While previously attending her selection as Cleveland High’s Princess, we learned Williams was co-president of the Black Student Union, Student Body VP, and an active member of National Honors Society.

We wondered what made this poised young lady so special as to be chosen as Portland’s grand festival ambassador. While Queen Marshawna was too busy with her many appearances during the festival to speak with us, we were granted an interview after the conclusion of the main festivities.

Queen Marshawna is crowned Queen of Rosaria.

With crown and scepter in hand, Queen Marshawna is ready to begin her one-year reign to end at the start of next year’s Portland Rose Festival.

A queen in the making
“I’ve never been in a pageant of any kind,” Williams began. “In a sense, trying out to be Cleveland’s representative on the Rose Festival Court fell into my lap. It was a new experience I wanted to try out.”

Williams said she tendered her application to begin the process. “I was judged on how I carry and express myself. I learned some skills that I didn’t even know I have! I remember being a little nervous when I gave my speech. It was a close vote, I learned.”

After the excitement of the selection program subsided, Williams said she had the feeling that it was “meant to be. I didn’t prepare for this.”

Queen Marshawna walks down the aisle, and into the Portland Rose Festival history books.

Life on the Court
We learned that Portland Rose Festival Princesses wrap up their high school year early, on April 28. Instead of getting up for school, Rose Festival Court members begin to “work” 40-hour weeks, as they ride in neighborhood parades, attend luncheons, and promote the festival.

“It’s like we’re ‘on stage’ all day, every day, from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.,” related Williams. “It’s wonderful, because people are happy to see us; but it means we have to stay ‘up and positive’ all of the time.”

A happy memory that stood out for Williams was when the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon Court came to town. “We all went for a Jet Boat on the Willamette River, and had dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory.”

Williams also told us of poignant moments when they visited one of many nursing and assisting homes. “At first, I felt a little uncomfortable meeting patients with dementia. One woman came over and took my hand – she was speaking a language I didn’t understand. But, just my listening to her seemed to cheer her up.”

Composure regained, Queen Marshawna gives her first interview to the waiting media reporters and cameras.

The big day
On the day of the queen’s selection, Williams said she got up at 4 a.m. and was at the festival’s Lloyd Center offices at 4:30 a.m. for check-in, and to start fixing her hair and putting on her makeup.

With shoes and gowns in hand, she and the other Princesses next arrived at Memorial Coliseum. In a side room, the princesses were treated to the catered “Royal Breakfast” at 7 a.m. “It was good. I had a lot of fruit, and some sausage and eggs, too.”

As the coronation program was beginning, Williams said the Princesses helped each other get ready, putting on finishing touches with makeup and slipping into their gowns.

Over the PA system, the Master of Ceremonies called the Princesses’ names, one by one, as they came out to greet the crowd.

“I remember being nervous when I heard my name. I was thinking, ‘What if I’m selected; or what if it isn’t me?’ I remember walking down the carpet to the stage; across it, and down to my seat. I was walking fast.”

At the program’s end, when the MC read her name, Williams said, “I was excited, and laughing and sad – all at the same time.”

All hail Queen Marshawna! She and her court ride off on their float in the June 7 Grand Floral Parade.

Queen’s-eye view of the parade
Williams said she doesn’t remember much of the impromptu press conference following her crowning, but she started to relax when she, and her royal court, mounted their float in the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.

“As we got on the float, a couple of the girls said they were hungry. Our ‘Royal Coachman’ – Gary, our bus driver – brought pepperoni sticks for us to eat, when we make long stops along the route.”

“Trying to make it up the hill from the Convention Center, on NE Weidler Street, our float either stalled or ran out of gas, and we had to be towed,” Williams recalled. “And, later in the parade, we got stuck in a pothole. It was a fun and interesting ride!”

As announcers at outlying reviewing stands along the route stumbled while pronouncing her name, Williams realized many parade-goers hadn’t gotten the word who had been crowned, but everyone smiled and waved.

“It was really fun seeing all the people along the route. A little girl holding a sign that read, ‘I love you Queen Marshawna’. A whole line of friends from Cleveland High were standing on the Burnside Bridge, cheering me.”

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officers Mark De Long and Jacob Clark are part of the bike patrol assigned to the Grand Floral Parade route.

Representing Portland abroad
Williams said she looks forward to appearing at the Pendleton Round Up later this year, and may represent Portland at the Pasadena Parade of Roses festival in Southern California on New Year’s Day.

“I’m also looking forward to visiting our sister city in China, Kaohsiung, R.O.C.”

Back to being a teenager
This fall, Williams said she’ll be entering the University of Portland to study environmental engineering with a minor in business.

And, while Williams said she’s looking to enjoy a little time off, she added, “I already miss the girls and our chaperones. We had so much fun together. But I’m looking forward to being a teenager again and taking a little time off. I woke up with a start the other morning at 7 a.m. – but realized I wasn’t late – I didn’t have to go anywhere!”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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