Last night I had the chance to attend the 54th Annual New York State Dairy Princess Coronation in Liverpool, New York. For the past two years now, I have attended pageant from the stage in the front of the room, in a crown and sash, both as a county princess and as the New York State Dairy Princess. Tuesday evening was a different story, as it was the first time in many years that I attended pageant as an audience member and supporter. As different as it was to listen to speeches and hear those three names be called as a former princess, the experience really did give me perspective.
Running for NYS Dairy Princess means two days of interviews, adult speeches, tests, and rehearsals. After listening to the three adult speech winners (Sara Rohe – Onondaga County, Sydney Parkin – Orange County, and Grace Harrigan – Clinton County), I realized how much being a dairy princess shaped and developed not only my public speaking skills, but my love for speaking to people and sharing my story.
For the Written Communication portion of the contest, the three finalists were Sara Rohe – Onondaga County, Liz Colgan – Cayuga County, and Katrina Oakes – Franklin County. Since I am, after all, a communications intern, I have always believed this to be one of the most important aspects of a dairy princess’s reign. Being able to incorporate key messages and phrases into newspaper articles or social media posts is crucial to getting the right message out to the consumer. Product knowledge goes hand in hand with this. The winners for the Written Product Knowledge Test were Krystle Burger – Jefferson County, Grace Harrigan – Clinton County, and Sara Rohe – Onondaga County. Every dairy princess knows the nine essential nutrients and can name them in her sleep (my roommate can confirm that I have probably done that), but relaying the benefits of wholesome dairy products to the consumer, who is most likely overwhelmed with an array of alternative products, is a difficult task. These ladies proved to have put in a lot of work over their year as a county dairy princess, and it was clear that each participant excelled at different aspects of the contest.
Of course, a dairy princess is often known as being an outgoing, bubbly presence that carries herself in a professional manner. Each year, a “Miss Congeniality” is named from the group of girls competing for the coveted state crown, chosen by her peers. Andi Woods of Yates County took the title this year with a big smile on her face.
The top seven finalists are all presented with the opportunity to answer an impromptu question in front of the entire audience. This year’s seven were Grace Harrigan – Clinton County, Julia Houser – Washington County, Ellie Ainslie – Herkimer County, Melanie Luke – Saratoga County, Sara Rohe – Onondaga County, Sydney Parkin – Orange County, and Lyndsey Weykman – Ontario County. They all did a great job of gathering their thoughts and formulating an answer to a question that we all should consider – “If a television station came to visit your farm tomorrow and you had a chance to show them around, what would you show and tell them?”. And while we would all like to spend a day and explain every detail of the operation, the ladies broke it down into three categories: animal care, environmental stewardship, and the health benefits of dairy products. These three categories are what each dairy princess strives to explain to the general public at nearly every event or meeting she attends. This, of course, made many of us in the crowd, myself included, take a minute to think about how the public may perceive our farms and our industry, and what we can do to maintain our positive image.
This year’s New York State Dairy Princess Pageant was well attended due to both the nice weather and the level of competition. Judges Judi Dixon, Michael McCaffrey, and Harold Shaulis had their work cut out for them, but they chose a well-informed and capable court of young ladies to represent New York’s Dairy Industry. Many people throughout the night spoke about the current state of the dairy industry, and how youth like the dairy princesses give producers and their industry reassurance at times. Personally, it was both rewarding and refreshing to hear the remarks of this past year’s dairy princess, Emily Ooms, who I had the pleasure of crowning last year. As an outgoing princess, you always worry about who will wear the crown next and if they will be capable, no matter how qualified they are. Emily did an excellent job serving as a spokesperson for the industry, and based on what I saw and heard last night, this year’s team is going to follow suit.
The team of Grace Harrigan, Sydney Parkin, and Sara Rohe hold the titles of 2017-2018 2nd Alternate, 1st Alternate, and New York State Dairy Princess, respectively. Seeing the look on these young ladies’ faces brought me right back to the moment two years ago when my name was called and my life changed. I had no idea what a fun, educational, and fulfilling year I had ahead of me, and neither do the new princesses. However, they will soon learn how fortunate they are to be representing the hardworking dairy farmers of New York State, and I am confident they will do it to the best of their abilities.
As odd as it felt to be a spectator this year instead of a participant, I am glad I was able to see my fellow former princesses, as well as those who supported us throughout our year of promotion. I will always be grateful for the experience that I had, and can only hope that the same experience will be provided to passionate young ladies for years to come. If there was ever a program that allowed for professional and personal development, lifelong connections, and the opportunity to be a powerful advocate for the dairy industry, it is the dairy princess program. Last night was a reaffirmation that New York’s Dairy industry is alive and thriving, and has a bright future ahead of it.