'I think the thing that struck me most was how it was about being a role model and community service.'

TIDINGS PHOTO: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - Caitlin McCabe was shocked and honored to learn she was named the Metro East region princess for the 2018 Rose Festival Court. "There's always next year."

That's what West Linn High School junior Caitlin McCabe thought as she applied to represent the Metro East region of the Portland Rose Festival 2018 Court.

Even if she didn't rise above a highly competitive field and earn one of the Court's 14 spots, it would be a valuable learning experience that she could bank for the application process as a senior.

So it came as a genuine shock to McCabe last week when she was named Metro East Princess.

"It's definitely very exciting — I was not expecting it," McCabe said. "I still think it's not really sunk in all the way. I look at things like, 'Oh, I could add that to my application next year,' and I remember I don't need to apply next year. So it was definitely a great surprise and also an amazing honor to be selected for this."

McCabe joins 13 other princesses from schools around the Portland area. The mission of the Rose Festival Court is to provide scholarships for higher education — each princess receives a $3,500 scholarship for any accredited college, university or trade program — while also promoting community outreach, volunteerism, networking and mentoring opportunities for young women.

A Rose Festival Queen is named in June during the Grand Floral Parade. McCabe is the second West Linn girl to be named to the Rose Festival Court, following Emma Waibel, who was selected as queen in 2014.

McCabe said she'd always heard about the Rose Festival Court while she was growing up in West Linn, but became more interested in recent years when she learned about the ethos surrounding it.

"I think the thing that struck me most was how it was about being a role model and community service and good speaking and becoming a better person," McCabe said.

"It wasn't about beauty or popularity or anything like that. And to find a program like that that also supported women and gave them an opportunity to grow and improve upon themselves was something that made me very interested in it."

It takes just a quick look at McCabe's busy schedule to see what made her stand out in the selection process. A longtime participant in 4-H, she's also a member of the varsity track and field team at WLHS, serves as president of the Interact Club and participates in everything from the Youth Advisory Council to Speech and Debate Club, Model UN and Chamber Orchestra, among others.

Among those, 4-H stands out to McCabe as an activity that helped influence her development from an early age.

"I've been involved since I was 5 years old," she said. "It's definitely a big part of who I am today. It's where I first learned to communicate and use public speaking — it was actually a rule in my 4-H club that everyone had to do a speech each year at the county fair. And so a lot of that has put confidence in me today and shaped who I am."

Being named to the Rose Festival Court is hardly a ceremonial honor. Beginning in May, the princesses travel around Oregon full-time for five days a week, appearing at community events as well as hospitals, businesses, senior living centers and civic groups. They also receive one-on-one mentorship from executive women.

For McCabe, it's an invaluable opportunity to meet a wide array of fellow Oregonians.

"The biggest (thing) is just to meet other people, whether that be other girls on the court or people from other parts of Oregon," she said. "Living in West Linn is very different from living in Portland, and I was even learning a little bit about that when I met some of the other court members this past Saturday. So I think it that will be very exciting to meet all of them and get to know them a lot better."

The theme for the court this year is "play happy," and it proved to be a natural fit for the way McCabe approaches life.

"I talked (to judges) about how 'play happy' means you don't always have to be mature and grown up and serious all the time," she said. "There's always a chance for you to relax and have some fun with people ... it's a really great way for us to get to know one another.

"And that's what the Portland Rose Festival is all about."

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