Yet again, we find ourselves among newly crowned ambassadors and aspiring state titleholders–ambitious young women striving to improve their communities and themselves through service and professional development. While the relevancy and practicality of these programs is under constant scrutiny, I’m here to prove that bouquets, banquets and ham sandwiches teach young women the fundaments of society and how to be a meaningful contributor to our communities and more—an opinion from a once-skeptical, scholarship-seeking high school senior turned full-fledged ambassador advocate through personal royalty experiences.
Let’s start with a statement we can all agree on: the work, time and effort put into a year of service (a year of anything at that) has lasting impacts. It is a year of learning about yourself and society. It is a year of volunteering and consequently recognizing the importance of giving. It is a year of growth, both personally and community-wide. Like DECA, PRSSA and other well-known student and professional organizations, these rhinestone-crested programs prepare you for the future and teach you the ins and outs of how our society functions.
Banquets– You’ve been to one and it won’t be your last. In my years as an ambassador, I attended banquets like I crave cookies–all the time. I’m not speaking directly to pre-coronation banquets, but professional, educational or other related banquets and benefits. They’re nearly inevitable in a lifetime. And while they typically last longer than you expect (and sometimes hope), banquets are a form of recognizing, honoring and celebrating the past year’s work and dedication to that company or organization. Whether you like it or not, banquets are a relevant part of our society in every industry and organization, and you undoubtedly learn that through a year of service as an ambassador. It is especially impactful to reflect on your year of service and to notice how each community devotes such an effort to bettering itself. Ambassadors play a role in doing so by extending a community’s reach and, ultimately, strengthening a bond beyond the city limits.
Bouquets– This section encompasses everything a young woman receives during her year, typically beginning with a bouquet, crown and sash. Being showered with gifts and surrounded by sparkles is oh so regal, glamorous, thrilling… and temporary. The moments that will leave you with those same feelings are the opportunities that lie ahead–the opportunities that these once-in-a-lifetime reigns afford you. After months of preparation, practicing the tough interview questions and crafting perfectly-worded responses to your application free of grammar and spelling errors, you are rewarded by 12 short, challenging months that will push you more than before and reward you in ways you never imagined.
This is the thing most people don’t understand; once you’ve been selected, your journey has merely begun and the hard work presses on full steam ahead. Applying this to the “real world” is simple. Say you’re a novice in journalism and discover a great story to cover. That story ends up a hit and at your end-of-the-year celebration, you’re recognized company-wide for your efforts with a plaque and award. The moment of recognition is a booster for the young journalist just as it is for the young ambassador. One day, that recognition will fade if you do not dedicate yourself and rise to the challenge to meet the higher expectations that go hand-in-hand with such an honor bestowed on you. So, when you accept that award or that bouquet, do so knowing the true weight and significance of it.
Ham sandwiches– Your typical ambassador summertime diet and friendly reality reminder. If you were under the impression that princesses and royal ambassadors are fed off of silver spoons, think again. Yes, I have attended some galas and dinners where fancy, delicious, out-of-my-budget food was served, but this is far from the norm and the expected. On a standard appearance or afternoon visiting different communities, you are likely promised a ham sandwich, chips, fruit salad and a cookie with the option of water or lemonade (bonuses: pasta salads, corn on the cob, assorted dessert bars). As a disclaimer, this is probably my favorite summertime lunch. I could eat it everyday, no complaints. That said, the ham sandwiches became an amusing topic of my Aquatennial year because we consistently ate them a handful of times a week. Retrospectively, the ham sandwiches served as a subliminal, humbling element of my year. You have to start from the bottom to work your way up. Who knows, maybe my future holds roast beef as the norm.
To conclude, being an ambassador or princess takes you far beyond the crown and sash if you let it and learn from it. Realizing these lessons, connections to “the real world,” and reminders required reflection and persistent willpower to transform these opportunities into new ones. I am headed to Florida in June in pursuit of fulfilling my dreams: being surrounded by princesses once again. Kidding. I’ll be in the corporate international public relations office. Nevertheless, I fully intend on utilizing the communications and people skills I gained from my 3 years as a princess to produce my best work possible and climb closer toward my ultimate goal of being abroad. The princess thing is a nice perk, though. I can’t decide if my “princessing” is coming full circle or propelling me to new heights, but either way, you’d better believe I’m taking my crown and ham sandwich with me when I go.
All photos by: Laurie Solle