Anticipating the big day, certainly among the biggest of her young life, Ava Feldman knows taking part the 133rd Rose Parade on New Year’s Day as a member of the 2022 Royal Court will be like none other.
“I am super excited to be on that float,” said the beaming Feldman, a 17 year-old senior at South Pasadena High and longtime resident enjoying her current role as an ambassador for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.
Feldman, of course, knows the task will need to come with some rehearsal. She and the six others on the Court haven’t officially been taught the perfect wave, a special hand and arm motion asked of them as they roll down Colorado Boulevard during their 5-1/2 mile journey, “but we have been practicing,” Feldman said, prompting a laugh. “But, I must say, I don’t have it down yet.”
A huge part of New Year’s for Feldman was taken away a year ago when the pandemic cancelled the annual spectacle. So now, especially among those on board the Royal Court float, she’s glad the parade is making a return and the longtime tradition with all its history starting back in 1890 is on the books again.
After hearing her name called in October as a member of the Royal Court, standing alongside a group of 29 finalists, Feldman said she was “really surprised,” noting: “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
She was named to the prestigious honor among more than 300 who initially applied, the number ultimately reduced to seven selected after a series of interviews. “So, the chances were very slim,” Feldman said. “There were so many amazing girls.”
Among them was Samantha Molina, another South Pasadena resident, who was in the final group before the Court was announced. “It was really nice to have that comfort, someone next to me with the same background who went to the same high school as me,” recalled Feldman of Molina.
Over the years, Feldman’s family has traditionally walked along Orange Grove Boulevard on New Year’s Eve in the hours leading up to the parade, taking in the magnificent beauty of the floats lined up before they roll down the parade route. As a regular practice, Feldman has also collected photos of Rose Court members on their decorated floats, as she soaked up the wonderment of what it would be like to experience it one day.
“What Pasadena-area girl doesn’t dream of being a Royal Court member?” asked Feldman, envisioning being part of the parade’s tradition. “It wasn’t really about being on the float wearing all the fancy dresses. I really wanted to be on the Court because of the influence the Tournament of Roses has within the Pasadena community, and the work I would be able to do for them.”
While the community service aspect was a heavy influencer in her decision to tryout, a big push came from her mother, Christine who, as a South Pasadena resident for roughly the past 24 years, witnessed former members of Court around town at various functions as she took Ava, as a child growing up, with her. “They were just great role models,” she said. “In the very least I wanted her to interview [for this year’s Court] because what an amazing opportunity to have.”
Feldman, like other contestants at the initial tryouts, was given a mere 15 seconds to sell herself to Tournament of Roses judges in order to move onto the next round of the competition.
Christine likes to call it Ava’s “elevator pitch,” adding, “It’s good practice to get yourself out there. I rarely get this feeling as a parent that you just know something, but I knew that she would be a great representative and would do a great job and she should be on the Court.”
Without saying her name or the school she attends, in those brief seconds before the judging panel, Feldman recalls explaining something along the lines that “community services is super important to me” before mentioning some of the organizations she has contributed her time in recent years.
What Ava’s father, Brad, has seen in his daughter since she joined the Court is the “impact she’s made on little kids,” he said, saying the pageantry of it all hasn’t always been the highlight for him but seeing Ava walk into a school or being around children “has provided her a different level of a platform,” he said. “It makes kids happier, and I’m glad she’s able to experience that.”
Busy with school, service and now everything that comes with serving on the Royal Court, Feldman proudly is vice president of the Teaching and Sharing Skills to Enrich Lives (TASSEL) club, where Cambodian children learn the English language. In addition, she is a senior presentation representative of National Charity League, a California-based non-profit organization designed to encourage community service and volunteering opportunities for mothers and their daughters. Feldman also serves as president of the South Pasadena – San Marino YMCA Youth and Government delegation, in which students role-play at weekly meetings, addressing key issues facing the state and talk about ways the legislative and judicial branches of government can effect positive change.
And, on top of all that, Ava has earned a prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award. To receive it, she created a website that held self-created information videos on third grade curriculum during online school. She also developed a mentorship program between high school students and a third grade class at Arroyo Vista Elementary School in South Pasadena to combat the social and emotional struggles during a time of social isolation.
“I’ve grown up with community service being super important to me,” said Feldman, when asked how all the organizations have helped to shape her life. “It’s genuinely something I love to do. I’m very proud of the things I’ve done.”
In addition, she was co-captain of the varsity girls’ tennis team and is the current editor-in-chief of Copa de Oro, the high school yearbook.
Along with being active in the community, other criteria working in her favor to earn a place among the Court included public academic achievement, youth leadership, speaking ability and high school involvement.
Along with volunteering, Feldman, who has two siblings, Olivia and Sophia, likes to spend time with her friends, family and dogs.
Beyond college, with an interest in attending either Vanderbilt University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, or UC Berkeley, Feldman plans to study child development and/or psychology and hopes someday to become a child psychologist. Earning a spot on the Royal Court, like others on the Court, Feldman will receive a $7,500 educational scholarship.
A whirlwind of activity is ahead of Royal Court members as they have dozens of events on their plate leading up to the parade, returning after a one-year hiatus. “There will be a lot of introductions, meeting people, handing our rose stickers and watching faces light up,” said Feldman. “That’s my favorite part. I’m just excited to bring the tradition back and a sense of happiness and normalcy.”
She represents a city that has its own float in the parade, the oldest, in fact, dating back to 1910. “I love the South Pasadena float every year,” said Feldman, praising the dedication of the residents who make it happen. “I think it’s so fun that we have one. I’m glad we’re represented in the parade.”
Work on the city’s entry – “Sky’s the Limit” – is underway in a giant tent behind the War Memorial Building on Fair Oaks Avenue.
Feldman will join six other members on the Royal Court float including Rose Queen Nadia Chung, La Cañada High School and princesses Jeannine Briggs, John Marshall Fundamental High School; Abigail Griffith, Pasadena High School; Jaeda Walden, La Cañada High School; Swetha Somasundaram, Arcadia High School; and McKenzie Street, Flintridge Sacred Heart.
The theme for the upcoming parade is “Dream. Believe. Achieve.” Feldman, a big fan of all three, is in favor of it “because it’s very fitting for this new beginning we’re having,” she said. “It’s definitely a motto that I live by now. And I’m excited to represent it.”
And so is her mother, who saw Ava’s enthusiasm for the role she holds today at a very young age. “She’s always loved the parade,” remembers Christine. “She loved to see the Royal Courts, the crowns, and that excitement. We’re so proud of her. It’s nice to see that other people are seeing what I have always seen in her.”