Hundreds of girls try out for the 2017 Rose Parade Royal Court. Here are a few.

2016 Rose Princesses Natalie Hernandez-Barber and Donaly Marquez in their Royal Court summer frocks, in between orientation sessions.
2016 Rose Princesses Natalie Hernandez-Barber and Donaly Marquez in their Royal Court summer frocks, in between orientation sessions.

by Laura Berthold Monteros

It’s always a treat to talk to young women who try out for the Tournament of Roses Royal Court. It’s even sweeter to catch up with those who made it and have returned to Tournament House to explain the process to the hopefuls lined up on a warm Saturday morning in September. At the tryouts on Sept. 10, Rose Princesses Natalie Hernandez-Barber and Donaly Marquez from the 2016 Court found a few minutes between the groups of girls they were orienting to speak with us.

We spoke with a dozen young ladies after they had passed through the first round of judging and taken a tour of Tournament House. The photos and a little bit about each one are in the gallery below.

In the year since they sat on the porch listening to Princesses Emily Stoker and Gabrielle Current fill them in, Natalie and Donaly have made more than 100 appearances for the Tournament of Roses, finished high school and entered college, and gained lessons  that will last a lifetime. Serving on the Royal Court is a life-changing experience.

“It gives you more confidence,” Natalie said. “I’m not scared to speak in public.” As a broadcasting major at Chapman University, the public speaking skills and experience she gained stand her in good stead. “It was an exciting year,” she said, noting that she was the first Alverno High School girl to serve on the Royal Court in some time.

It had also been several years since Donaly’s alma mater, Blair High School, had a girl on the Court, and her journey to the Rose Parade was very different from that of other princesses throughout the years. The daughter of a drug addict, Donaly cared for her younger siblings until they were put in foster care. She was 5 years old. She’s now studying biology at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Even with such an uncertain childhood, “I made it on the Royal Court,” she said. “It’s exciting.” her compelling story is being made into a movie; filming is set to start late this year and the film to come out next year. Meanwhile, a brief look at her life and the family that opened their hearts to all of the children can be read in this Los Angeles Times article.

Natalie and Donaly tell the teenagers who are looking for a spot on the Royal Court should “smile and be yourself.” Natalie opined that the judges picked up on some of her “goofiness.” It’s not so much about how you look, they agreed. As Natalie said, “It’s how you really are deep inside.”