Papa placed a glass of orange juice on the counter in front of me and sang, “Rose, rose, rose of Tralee, I love you!” The familiar creases hugging his eyes tightened as he smiled and he uncovered a box of Dunkin Donuts munchkins, knowing exactly what flavor each grandchild preferred. Offering me the jelly munchkins, our shared favorite, he said, “Just wait until you’re old enough, Mary. You will be our rose!”
The image I just recalled is one of my favorites; the morning tradition at my grandparent’s house on Cape Cod. Ever since my first Irish Step Dance class, Papa has sung the Rose of Tralee song, patiently awaiting the day I was old enough to apply. Filling the role of eldest grandchild, Papa and I have a special bond. He is my biggest supporter, having attended all of my Irish Dance competitions from weekend feises to weeklong Nationals. He wanted to see me honored as the Rose to acknowledge the work I have completed and to more deeply connect to our Irish heritage.
When I was visiting my grandparents this past Christmas break, he pulled me aside after dinner and asked if I felt ready to apply to be a Rose. Seeing the excitement in his eyes, glistening from the reflections of Christmas tree ornaments and twinkling lights, I happily said yes.
After submitting the written portion of the application, I was invited to attend the first Rose event: a photo-shoot in Boston. The weather was perfect and my fellow roses were all so fashionably dressed! Used to navigating the twisted streets of Boston, we made our way to Primark, a major European retail store that opened its first American doors in Downtown Crossing. The girls and I loved the opportunity to browse through the spring collection, making mental notes of what to purchase upon return! Sarah Hogan, the 2015 Boston New England Rose, excitedly encouraged us to pose with the Primark manikins, expertly engaging the camera and smiling. We all followed her lead, eager to learn from our current Rose.
We quickly switched from pinching heels to comfortable flats and headed to the Swan Boats. Everyone we passed squinted their eyes to see what Sarah’s sash read, eager to know why so many well-dressed women were coming together on a sunny Saturday afternoon. My cheeks assumed their usual position in a dimpled smile as we snapped photo after photo. I enjoyed listening to the other girls’ life stories. We all had such unique experiences to share, chatting about our current jobs and schooling, making connections on fellow acquaintances.
I was slightly intimidated, being the youngest Rose present and seeing the articulateness and expressiveness of so many well-accomplished women. I took note of how important it is to sit with eloquent posture, knowing all of us were imagining the light kiss of silk on our shoulder if we were to don the Rose sash. The afternoon concluded with warm wishes and kind goodbyes, parting ways with the knowledge that our next meeting would be on selection night.
The next two weeks were filled with great anticipation, as I sought to be prepared for selection night. I spent many nights in the studio with my sister, who laughed at my attempts to regain my split. She drilled my form and style, pushing me to find the balance between a technical performance and an artistic performance. We would come home and open the prom dress closet like a scene from 27 Dresses. I put on fashion shows for my family, taking votes on which dress was most flattering. After dry-cleaning my silk red dress and polishing my hard-shoes, I was ready.
Bright and early, the Roses gathered at the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton, MA. Sitting around a white-linen clothed table, we lightly conversed about our travels in. We could hear fingers nervously drumming and knees sporadically bouncing. The committee members approached us, offering heartening smiles and words of reassurance. They passed around a hat, seemingly filled with our fates, as it contained small, folded pieces of paper with single numbers written on them.
I plunged my hand in, eager to know where I would fall in the order. My fingers quickly pulled back the edges to reveal an elegantly-written “1.” I was first. Immediately, I could hear some girls breathe a sigh of relief and others comforted me, saying it was good to be first. I was actually quite excited to be first in the lineup. I had been looking forward to this day for a long had no expectations for the outcome. I merely wanted to have fun!
The one-on-one interview with the three lovely judges was more of a casual conversation than any type of interrogation. We discussed some of my activities and accomplishments, occasionally referencing statements I had made in my written application. The group interview was just as enjoyable. I appreciated the dynamic between all of the girls, as we sought to listen to one another, respond to illuminate another’s idea, and confer towards the best possible answer for the group as a whole. It was invigorating to take part in such intellectual and educational conversation between such a strong group of women. Each Rose was confident in her own contribution and we respected each other’s involvement.
After both of these interviews and preparing to depart for a short recess, I was told the most shocking news of the day: I had to perform my party piece in my gown! I had not expected this, as I had simply assumed there would be time to change. Irish Step Dancing in a strapless dress? This was a challenge I did not shy away from!
During the break, I rushed to the closest mall to purchase skin glue and double-sided tape. I had a team of supportive women in the store’s dressing room assist in attaching the strapless dress to me in all means possible. I felt like Sandra Bullock in her transformative moment in Miss Congeniality with so many attendants helping me look my best!
Thankfully, I was able to perform my Irish Step Dance with grace and ease. My Irish Step was a wild success, with my papa beaming in the front row and cheering as loudly as he does for all of my dance competitions and shows. My parents were incredibly proud of my stage interview, joking about which side of the family such performance genes are attributed to.
Waiting for the grand announcement brought back the nervous feeling I had at every dance competition. I knew any one of the Roses could successfully fill the role of Boston New England Rose. When the judges finally returned after such deliberation, the Roses took the stage. I directed my eyesight towards my family. They always have been and will be my fiercest supporters.
A tangible silence swallowed the room. Families glanced among themselves and us, Roses, slightly bowed our heads and clasped our hands in front of us. The energy level heighted as the official selection commenced: “The 2016 Boston New England Rose is…” pause, wait, anticipate… “Grace Schiller!”
My family erupted into a deafening cheer. My papa leapt from his seat with one memorable, booming whoop, then fell silent. I immediately locked eyes with him. My grandfather was so filled with emotion, tears gathering and smile beaming. My parents hugged one another and watched as I giddily slid into the Rose sash, still shocked that I had been honored as the Boston New England Rose.
I was thrilled to accept such a wonderful responsibility and was rejuvenated with great excitement for what was to come. I re-live this moment every night before bed, feeling my family’s shared joy in this experience. I look forward to the Rose of Tralee Festival in Ireland this August and hope to make Boston and New England as proud as I have made my papa!