The Apple Blossom court celebrates kindness and service

Divya Sambathkumar, Social Media Manager

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Westford’s 51st annual Apple Blossom Parade was held on Saturday, May 21st depicting the many finalists and the Apple Blossom Queen, Julianne Lee. Kiwanis, the organization that runs the festival, celebrates senior girls at Westford Academy who give back to the community and represent kindness and leadership. 

Kiwani is a world-wide service organization that has helped raise money for children in need all around the world. Individual chapters that are run in different towns contribute by donating money to the world-wide organization but each chapter also raises funds to benefit their own community.

“Each group gives money to the world-wide organization to fight disease and help pay for all kinds of service projects all across the world but then each club also makes certain funds to be able to make a difference in their own community,” Westford Kiwanis member and member of the Apple Blossom committee Deb Siriani said.

To help their own community, Westford Kiwanis runs the Apple Blossom parade to raise funds for scholarships, support youth leadership as well as congratulate a young woman who gives back to the Westford Community and displays true kindness.

The Apple Blossom Committee interviews nominees to find a senior girl from Westford Academy who displays such kindness through various work that helps move the community towards a better future.

“What we look for is a young woman who is also making a difference either in the world or in their own community, usually both, and people who are an example for others,” Siriani said.

The candidates for the Apple Blossom Queen are nominated by the staff at Westford Academy who are expected to name five girls who they believe show commitment to service, are good-citizens and have a positive influence on others. The girls with the most nominations are then interviewed by the Apple Blossom committee.

The Apple Blossom Parade has sometimes been mistaken for a beauty pageant or even a popularity contest even though it only commends true leaders and girls with a pure heart rather than someone who is defined as being popular. The Apple Blossom candidates are chosen by the staff for the positive difference they make in the world. The committee wanted to highlight and disprove the false criticism.

“It’s not a popularity contest. It’s based on leadership. There has been a stigma for a while. We are really adamant to make sure the people know that that’s not the case at all. We are choosing these young women because of their value to the community, their value to the world and their ability to be a peer that other peers can look up to. The people that rise to the top are people that our committee looks up to and that we can actually learn from,” Siriani said.

Another false accusation that has been directed towards the Westford Kiwanis is that the Apple Blossom candidates are told to wear dresses, making it seem as though the point of the parade is to push forward such stereotypes. The Westford Kiwanis actually doesn’t require any sort of dress code and the finalists are allowed to wear whatever they are comfortable in.

“Some people have complained that they are in dresses and waving and in convertibles, but we never tell them what to wear. They can wear what they like. They wear what they feel good in and if that’s a pretty dress, what’s wrong with that? They can wear a pantsuit if they want. They can even wear a tanktop if they like. It’s something to make them feel special and they should. They should be proud of themselves,” Siriani said.

According to past Kiwanis historian Leo J. Connell, the first Apple Blossom Parade dates back to May 19, 1935 that was started with the help of apple farmers in Westford. The main point of the festival was to promote the apple growing heritage of both Westford and surrounding regions. The following year 38 regions participated in the festival. Unfortunately, the tradition came to halt in 1937.

“It’s just about carrying on tradition. The parade dates back to the 30s. It used to be more of a regional thing in which the daughters of the apple farm growers were chosen. And yeah they would often pick the prettiest girl when this thing first started,”  Siriani said.

The festival returned with the help of the Westford Kiwanis and has been carried out as a tradition ever since. Siriani said that the Westford Kiwanis has not carried out the festival as a beauty pageant unlike how it was before the organization started running it.

This year’s apple blossom queen, Julianne Lee, thought it was a beauty pageant at first as well but soon after she was nominated, she received emails about what the organization is truly about as well as what the Apple Blossom queen represents.

“At first… I thought it was like a beauty pageant but then we got emails about what Kiwanis is about which is the group that runs this every year in Westford and it’s about a senior girl who is a positive influence on others, who serves their community, who serves the people around them, who is just a nice person and cares about people.’ Lee said.

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Julianne Lee gets crowned as 2019’s Apple Blossom queen

Westford Kiwanis told Lee that the parade is about the beauty inside and in the beginning Lee was a bit skeptical since she didn’t want people to see her representing something that isn’t about looks since she doesn’t follow the stereotypical realm of being feminine, girly, wearing dresses and having long hair but she did soon accept it when she realized that young kids will look at her and realize that girls don’t have to just fit into a box society has created.

“The first thing they told us was that this is not a beauty pageant and it’s not about looks. At first I was a bit taken aback because I was like I don’t want to be the poster child for ‘it’s not about looks’ but I internally got over that and I think it’s awesome that I was nominated because they didn’t do based off of what I look like and I don’t look like a stereotypical girl, I have short hair, I plan on never wearing a dress again in my life. I find myself having a hard time fitting into the box that is girly and feminine. I think it’s cool that when we are going in a line of convertibles in the parade, little kids will see that queens don’t have to wear dresses and queens don’t have to have long hair.”

Lee, who has been elected as class president for her entire high school career, believes that people voted for her after realizing that she doesn’t just do it for the title but because she cares about the experience her fellow peers get from big events like class trips all the way to the smallest details such as what shade of gray their class shirt color is going to be.

Lee’s selflessness has been further proved by the amount of volunteering she has done throughout her four years. She has volunteered twice at Camp Sunshine alongside the school, which is a camp for kids with life threatening illnesses in their families. After her service at places such as Camp Sunshine, Lee idolizes the people who have dedicated their time and effort to good causes.

“Usually when I come from community service experiences, I think about the people who run it, and looking at the people that run these things, like Camp Sunshine, these are people working from just the goodness of their heart. They have chosen to dedicate their lives to giving a family a meal once a week and giving the kids at Camp Sunshine an opportunity to feel normal. That’s really inspiring,” Lee said.

One of the things Lee does to make a difference is just simply smile. She believes that a smile or even a hello could go a long way. Her outlook towards school is also, similarly, very positive. Unlike many who dislike school, Lee loves the opportunities at Westford Academy and the number of people she meets.

“In general, I would not say I’m a negative person. I’m pretty quick to smile and say hello. One of my favorite things ever is to make people smile… I like to crack jokes and I know that a smile can go a long way and I know it’s not helping the world or saving the world, which I really want to do, but a smile can make a difference,” Lee said.  

Kathryne Lovell, a finalist for the Apple Blossom queen, wants to make a difference for the young children watching the parade and show them that the senior girls riding in floats stand for something, which in her case is kindness.

“I remember when I was a little kid and I’d look at the Apple Blossom Queen and think she’s really pretty. Even last year when I saw the senior girls I thought to myself ‘They are so beautiful, they are so amazing’ […] I think that when people look up to you like that, you have a lot of responsibility […] I just want to inspire the kids that are watching the parade,” Lovell said.

Her community service experiences have mostly been shaped by the Mission trip she goes on every year where she is surrounded by kindness.

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Senior Kathryne Lovell being escorted by a minuteman

“Everyone is really kind there and I think it’s because of service. I think it’s because we go there and do eight hours of service everyday and you see people living in situations … You come back and you see the world differently and interact with people differently,” Lovell said.  

Renee Owen, another finalist, thinks that empathy is something that people should feel and says that it goes hand-in-hand with equality. She would like for people to see other perspectives rather than just getting wrapped up in smaller issues.

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Senior Renee Owen walking to stage escorted by a minuteman

“I think that people get wrapped up in little things[…]. If I could wake up tomorrow I would want to see people that are empathetic and caring and who aren’t afraid to help someone out. And so if I could change anything, it would be the empathy that people feel and I think empathy is also connected to equality. It would just be where people see others’ perspectives more,” Owen said.

Another finalist, Tess Keele, stands up for girls being able to express themselves and be their own advocate. Having had to struggle with Type-1 diabetes since a very young age has taught Keele how to do that for herself and not let her disease get in her way.

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First runner-up, Tess Keele, receiving her award

“I think that girls in this time period really need to be advocates for themselves whether that is a political opinion or how they feel. Someone like myself, I’ve had to struggle with type-1 diabetes since I was about four years old, and I think learning to advocate for myself with this disease has helped me become a leader in the community,” Keele said.

Volunteering for the American Diabetes Association and Boston Children has helped Keele meet new people and become more passionate. She has learned leadership skills and made her develop into the person she is today.

“I feel like when you are passionate about something, you find others who have the same passion and it makes you more passionate. So when you do something you care about like something I do, which is fundraise and advocate for type 1 diabetes, I felt like it has made me become more of who I am as a person because it’s taught me to stick up for myself. I’ve learned leadership skills and how to talk in front of big crowds,” Keele said.

Sarah Balian, a finalist as well, has worked a lot with children through her community service which she says has opened her eyes to different perspectives.

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Senior Sarah Balian leads off the candidates as she is the first to make her way to the stage

“I’ve done a lot of community service with children and that has given me a perspective. Kids keep things fresh for you but I think if you ask any adult, teacher or pediatrician or anyone that works with kids, they always keep you on your toes and they keep you thinking about stuff. Service is such a great thing because by helping other people you are also helping yourself,” Balian said.

Jackie Ricko, also a finalist and like many of the other candidates, believes kindness should be seen more but she says that societal standards should not exist.

“I believe kindness is definitely a big thing and I would like to see standards of women change. I think that a lot of girls feel pressured to meet society’s standards but I don’t think there should be standards. Everyone should be who they are and girls should be happy with who they are,” Ricko said.

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Senior Jackie Ricko walking to stage escorted by a minuteman

Ricko’s community service with children has shaped her since she learned a lot about other people’s backgrounds and helped her notice that not everything is known about a person.

“I taught little kids how to play hockey and that honestly shaped me a lot because seeing where those little kids came from and their background. It helped me realize that you don’t know everything that everyone is going through and that you need to be kind no matter what,” Ricko said.

Ariella Fleischer, similar to Ricko, likes working with children and, in fact, wants to be a teacher in the future. Her community service has involved volunteering at schools which has strengthened her future career decision.

“My life revolves around my volunteer work ….[Volunteering] has taken up so much time that it has given me that extra nudge to know I want to be a teacher, and I know I want to be a teacher because I do a lot of volunteering at schools and I just think [volunteering] has finalized that idea for me,” Fleischer said.