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Wrapping up a special year

With laughter, tears and a whole lot of memories, the Sequim Irrigation Festival royalty soon will wrap up the 2008 parade season.

The Shelton Christmas Town parade, weather permitting, will be the 17th and final procession for the royal foursome.

"It's bittersweet," said princess Melissa Karapostoles, summing up the group's mood in two words. "I'm excited to see the other girls for another parade, but it's sad that it's the last one."

Before the pageant, the Sequim High School student noted that she'd observed past queens and princesses establish themselves as confident and determined young women during their time as royalty. Now, she's undergone the transition herself.

"I've become more comfortable with everything about me from my personality to my appearance," Karapostoles said. "I've really come out of my shell."

But the best part about being royalty doesn't have anything to do with her, Karapostoles continued. "Getting to know the other girls has been my favorite part," she said. "We had some really great times together. When we started, we were acquaintances but not friends. Now, we are like sisters."

Princess Jenae Stratton entered the royalty pageant with the intent of improving her public speaking skills. And that's exactly what she did.

"Now, I can actually talk in front of the class without getting too nervous," Stratton said. "That's good with senior stuff coming up."

Looking through her journal, Stratton recalls the Olympia Capital Lakefair parade in July where somebody called out to her royal counterpart, queen Jennifer Lancheros, asking her to marry him. "We just continued waving and smiling," she said.

"And of course there was the Irrigation Festival," Stratton said, "where I fell off a log the day before the parade and broke my tiara."

Some people might have taken that as a bad omen but the bubbly teenager simply laughed the incident off and wore a replacement tiara.

Persephone Nelson wanted to be royalty for the same reason she wants to be a teacher someday: to serve as a role model for children. The opportunity to work with fellow youths was abundant during the past nine months. "Kids would come up to me all the time and say, 'You are one of the princesses!'" Nelson said. "It was so cute."

Next year, Nelson plans to stay involved with the Irrigation Festival royalty as a volunteer. "I don't want to be completely out of it," she said. "I want to share my experiences with the girls coming in."

Jennifer Lancheros, crowned queen, described Sequim as "a really special place" during the royalty pageant in March. "I feel very privileged to live in and represent such a remarkable town," she said during her acceptance speech.

Those feelings have only intensified, the Sequim High School junior said. "I love Sequim and am so happy and thankful to have had this opportunity," Lancheros said. "It's even better than I ever knew. I've met so many people and so many clubs and seen how helpful and loving this community truly is."

Narrowing down one or two favorite memories from the year is impossible, Lancheros said. "Every single parade has its own special memories. All us of bonded really well this year and from every parade there is something we can look back at and laugh about."

If there's one lesson she learned from the experience, Lancheros said, it's to appreciate life. "Live every day to the fullest," she encouraged others. "Do what you need to do, but have fun doing it. Just look at this last year, it went by so fast. Too fast."

Royalty "mom" Lynn Horton serves as the girls' mentor. She also has a handful of funny stories and memories of time spent with the girls, including the day a mouse was found in the float during the Marysville Strawberry Festival parade, surprising driver Tawana Borden. Princess Stratton was able to trap the rodent in a small box and keep the container at her feet until the end of the parade.

"She wanted to take the mouse home but we told her she had to release it," Horton remembered with a hearty laugh.

"I recommend anybody to try out for this," Horton said about trying out during the royalty pageant. "It's not a beauty contest by any means. It's a fabulous experience and a chance to get out there, learn how to speak in front of a crowd, walk in heels - the whole package."

But even more than being queen or princess for a year, being part of the Irrigation Festival royal court is about representing the Sequim community, Horton said. "From the very first meeting we set the girls down and let them know it is a full-time job for the entire year - when they are in their royal getup and when they are not."

"You hear kids say they just can't wait to leave Sequim," Horton continued, "but these four girls have become a part of Sequim and will always be."

The float - constructed from scratch after a fire demolished the 2007 float - won multiple awards at parades statewide: first place in the Tacoma Daffodil Parade, the Queens Award in the Port Townsend Rhododendron Festival, the Mayor's Award at the Port Orchard Fathoms of Fun, the Workmanship Award at Seafair in Seattle, and the Grand Sweepstakes Award at the McCleary Bear Festival. A complete list of awards is available online at www.irrigationfestival.com/events/float-parade-schedule.html.



Last chance to see the

2008 Irrigation Festival float

The Sequim Irrigation Festival royal court will attend the Shelton Christmas Town Parade - the final parade of the season - Saturday, Dec. 6, weather permitting. The girls participated in 16 other parades, including the Sequim Irrigation Festival, and multiple other community events such as Relay for Life. The theme for the 2009 festival - No. 114 - is "Sequim - A Magical Place," May 2-10. For more information, go online to www.irrigationfestival.com.



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