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Rose Festival princesses reign in real life

My View • Survey says their experiences help build solid lives

In March, 15 new high school princesses were chosen by their schools to participate in the 105-year-old Portland Rose Festival tradition. They joined more than 1,000 past court members in a unique sisterhood. Yet, in those 105 years, no one has ever checked to assess the impact of the court experience.

That changed this year.

Marilyn Clint, the Portland Rose Festival Foundation's chief operating officer, wanted to know. In February, the foundation launched a comprehensive survey of past court members. How did the foundation do with the court? How could they do better? What are past court members doing today, and what advice would they give current court members?

The results are in. As the principal investigator, I would like to share some of these findings with the Portland community.

The survey contained questions about three areas: the past court members themselves (court year, age, education, family); their Rose Festival experiences (favorite events, people, mentorship program, Rosarians and Rose Society, and how the Rose Festival could improve that experience); and their experiences since the festival (use of wardrobe, accomplishments, advice to new court and the value of court experience).

Eight decades of past princesses participated -- from the 1930s through today. The youngest respondent was 19; the oldest was 99. The average age was 55.

On a scale of 1 to 5, (1 being poor, 5 being outstanding) past court members' average rating of their court experience was 4.83.

According to a recent article in a local newspaper, Oregon's college graduation rate is 28 percent for four-year colleges and 9 percent for community colleges, or about 37 percent total. In the last 20 years, about 250 princesses have been selected and participated in the Rose Festival court events. Of those, 242 have graduated from college -- a 97 percent graduation rate, almost three times the Oregon average.

One question was, "What are your greatest accomplishments in life?"

Here are just a few of the responses: "Teacher of the year;" "MBA and husband is a judge;" "registered nurse for 35 years;" "two college degrees;" "a decent lawyer;" "doctor of pharmacy;" "summa cum laude graduate;" "school principal;" "Air Force pilot;" "Fulbright scholar and science literacy fellow;" "vice president at Charles Schwab;" "State Farm agency executive;" and "ambassador to Belgium." The average past court member has 2.8 children.

The list goes on. And the best news of all: Almost 70 percent of these past princesses live within 50 miles of downtown Portland! Through their amazing accomplishments, they are continuously giving back to us in their local communities.

And their advice to current court members? "Congratulations, this is a once-in-a-lifetime gift."

"A unique and valuable gift, like no other. I'm still grateful 37 years later!"

"The Rose Festival is a class act and Portland is like no other city."

"Be yourself, be humble and kind to all you meet." "Embrace the citizens of Portland because they will embrace you."

So at this year's Rose Festival parades, when the court members pass by in their special vehicles, stand and cheer for them. Take a good look at their faces and remember their names. Perhaps one of them will find a cure for cancer or world hunger. One might be a Nobel Prize winner or a global advocate for exploited children.

Be proud of them, because they will surely accomplish great things.

Bill Manning is a professor emeritus of the Business School at Portland State University.