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Rose Princess Ready to Turn the Corner

First published in the Dec. 29 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

It was a rare, quiet morning after Christmas for Uma Wittenberg, 17, but the 2023 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Princess didn’t have a moment to lose.
She had one day to finish the last of her college applications before a whirlwind of activities would set her on the path to the grand entrance on the TOR’s Royal Court float in front of millions of people around the world on Jan. 2. Wittenberg’s mother, Vanesa, sister Mila and extended family from Argentina will be waiting in the crowd on Colorado Boulevard to wave to her and cheer her on.
“I am so excited, I cannot stop thinking about that moment in the Rose Parade when we turn the corner,” said Wittenberg, referencing this year’s theme “Turning the Corner,” which has special meaning to her.
“We’ve all been going through this pandemic, but we’re able to use what happened to come out of it stronger and better and improve in the future,” she said. “I’m turning the corner to start a whole new chapter of my life, like starting college, and I just think, turning the corner means a lot of new, exciting things to come while also remembering some of those things from the past that may not have been as bright.”
The parade grand finale and Rose Bowl Game will wrap up about 135 public appearances during a breathless three-month period, during which Wittenberg was also keeping up her academics and position as senior class treasurer at La Cañada High School, preparing to debut as a member of the Les Fleurettes Debutante program and finishing tenure as a princess on the 2022 Miss La Cañada Flintridge Royal Court, among other activities.

  • (Photo courtesy Pasadena Tournament of Roses) - The Pasadena Tournament of Roses Royal Court, which will ride on their special float during Monday’s Rose Parade, includes (from left) Michelle Cortez-Peralta, Uma Wittenberg, Adrian Crick, 2023 Rose Queen Bella Ballard, Salia Baligh, Zoe Denoncourt and Sahanna Rajinikanthan.
  • Rose Princess Uma Wittenberg, mom Vanesa Wittenberg

Keeping up with it all has been tough, she admits, but also very rewarding.
“It’s been hard because I consider myself a very academic person. I care a lot about school and my grades and making sure that I’m on the same levels as my peers, so having to miss a lot of school has really stressed me out,” she said. “But having all the Rose Court girls who are in the same boat as me has really bonded us; they are so supportive and sweet. So it’s been really great to have these six other girls by my side as we go throughout this experience.”
The Royal Court members, who all appear in public in matching outfits, were on the same page when it came to style, she laughed: “We requested one thing — no skinny jeans.”
Wittenberg’s mother has watched her daughter handle the flurry of activities this past year with admiration, noting that after this, life will be a breeze.
“It’s been a real experience, watching them and understanding how much these girls have to do… they work so hard, it was a lot of training, interviews, meetings with business leaders, talking to children, government officials, it’s super intense,” she said, adding “and then there are all the demands of being a senior, applying to colleges, what it takes to perform with all these pressures, it’s just so much work.”
Vanesa Wittenberg recalled that when her daughter first tried out for the Royal Court, she was just one of about 1,000 girls and the odds didn’t seem in her favor. She tried to temper their expectations along the way.
But at that final moment when her daughter’s name was called to the stage, she felt overcome: “I was so emotional when she was selected, I guess I hadn’t thought it through completely; it was the proudest moment ever.”
Along the way, Wittenberg has learned “an enormous amount” about the community and the Tournament of Roses itself, including how many people it takes to make the organization successful.
“We’ve been so involved in the community through charities like Union Station, Habitat for Humanity, local schools. … There are more than 900 volunteers and everyone is so passionate about what they do,” she said. “It’s really inspired me to carry that passion on for the rest of my life because these people truly want to make their community a better place.”
Wittenberg will be turning more corners in the next few months as she chooses her next steps.
She plans to study business, marketing, economics or finance and is applying to New York University, Columbia University, Barnard College, UC Berkeley and UCLA.


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