The first thing Halle Nelson planned to do when she got home was eat some cake. Maybe call her friends.
“I’m on cloud nine,” the North Central High School senior said, gripping a bouquet of flowers. “I feel like my nerves are rushing out of my body.”
On Sunday, a panel of judges at the Lilac Festival Queen and Court Coronation at West Valley High School declared Nelson the newest top royalty in a lineage that spans over 70 years. As part of the ceremony, she and six other Spokane-area high school students will represent the Lilac Festival in the 2018 Armed Forces Torchlight Parade.
The new queen has plenty to recommend her for the honor: a 4.0 grade-point average, and a desire to study to become a doctor. Though maybe it was her speech, touching on her history of leadership in a world dominated by men, that swayed the vote. While her friends called her “bossy,” using the word as a term of endearment, some adults had been less encouraging – even going so far as to tell her her to pare down her dreams.
She wasn’t having any of it.
“I am fortunate that I never let this statement have an impact on me,” she said during her prepared two-minute speech. “The type of change I would like to install in my community is to challenge the belief that you can’t do it all.”
Nelson was in good company. Of the six other strong, accomplished young ladies who beat out 10 other highly qualified candidates to become Lilac Festival princesses, each had their own unique achievements to tout and hopes of bright futures to share.
There were anecdotes of learning from a young woman with cancer, and of love and family. But for two seniors from Spokane County, memories struck a more painful chord.
Marley Pratt, a senior at Freeman High School, focused her speech on the day of Sept. 13, 2017, when a sophomore classmate killed one student and injured three others.
“Since then, it’s been a tough road,” she said. “I won’t lie. We’ve experienced months of pain and suffering, just as some are experiencing today.”
Yet not long after, she said, the students banded together and created a care package for the survivors of the Marshall County High School shooting in Kentucky earlier this year.
“As I put the package in the mail, I realized my school shooting didn’t break me,” she said. “It made me stronger.”
Grace Kannberg, from Mead High School, was blunt. She told the crowd that even now, sometimes, she was scared to go to school.
“I’m not here to point fingers,” she said. “I’m not here to preach about gun laws and gun safety. I am here to change the world with a simple message from a high school senior – choose kindness.”
Before her speech, Nelson, the new queen, was asked a simple, whimsical question: if she could go back in time to one event in her childhood, what would it be?
The birth of her sister, she said, which happened and when she was 3. She doesn’t remember much, but she’d like to.
She’d also like to flip the script on powerful women. Women like her, who took on leadership roles, even in grade school. Women like her, who as a freshman memorized the entirety of the Gettysburg Address.
Women like her, who will one day be our doctors, lawmakers and military personnel.
“We won’t be 18 years old forever,” she said. “In order to do it all, we need bossy, determined know-it-alls.”
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