May 19, 2019 — This past Wednesday, I attended my very first Rhody Coronation. I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive. I never was one for “beauty pageants,” which is what I had assumed it would be like. The idea of judging teens based on things like how big their smile is or how gracefully they wave at the audience always seemed a bit misguided to me.
The Rhody Coronation, I am happy to say, was nothing like what I expected. The evening was not about critiquing; the evening was about celebrating everyone on the junior and senior courts.
On the stage was a diverse group of kids — all from different backgrounds and all being supported by their fellow contestants, the panel of judges and the audience. There were waves of applause for every prince and princess. An intense sense of community and acceptance was felt throughout the auditorium; it really was beautiful.
When performing their talents, I learned more about my peers than I had in nearly two years of attending school with them. I had no idea how passionate my fellow students were about their goals and ambitions. Watching them, I felt a spark of inspiration and excitement for the future that I hadn’t felt in a while since becoming a senior.
The one emotion that really characterized the evening was pride — for my friends, for my fellow students and, most importantly, pride for my community.
As I said, I was previously confused as to the appeal of the Rhody Coronation. I hadn’t understood what made it such a vital part of Florence’s Rhododendron Festival tradition. After all, it is just a “beauty pageant,” right?
After actually experiencing it myself, I saw that the Rhody Coronation was so much more than that. It is a celebration honoring the incredible kids who come from our beautiful town. It is a coming-of-age ritual — a metamorphosis from teen to adult; from princess to Queen Rhododendra.