I Was A Judge At The Orange Queen Competition :: 5 Things I Learned Along The Way

I Was A Judge At The Orange Queen Competition :: 5 Things I Learned Along The Way

I’ve been to Washington Mardi Gras several times, and I have seen festival queens from around the State presented at the Krewe of Louisianians ball. But I’ve never understood the tradition, and the time, energy, and commitment it takes to represent your hometown at this event and throughout the year.

I recently accepted the invitation to participate as a judge for the 2023 Orange Queen competition —  and I’m so glad that I did. The judges were told to plan for a full day of activities, which it definitely was, but the time flew by and before I knew it, we were being rushed into the Belle Chasse High School Auditorium to finalize our decisions.

And I absolutely teared up when the winner was crowned, even though I already knew who it was!

I’m so glad that I was able to have this experience. Washington Mardi Gras 2024 will have a different meaning to me this time, and I will definitely be on the lookout for the Plaquemines Parish Orange Queen!

Meanwhile, here are the top five things I learned by serving as a judge:

  1. It’s not a beauty pageant.  Are contestants judged on poise and presentation? Yes. But is choosing the Orange Queen all about who looked best in the prettiest dress? Definitely not. It is about interview skills, personality, adaptability, and knowledge of their home parish and all it has to offer. It is about ambition and life goals and what these young women would be like as ambassadors for Plaquemines Parish.

    The greenhouses at Belle Danse are open to the public and worth the trip.
  2. Plaquemines Parish is worth the drive. Before this experience, the Belle Chasse Cafe was the furthest I had been down Highway 23. Between rounds of judging, our hosts took us “down the road” (IYKYK) where we encountered some of the nicest people and beautiful places. There are more populated parts of Louisiana that you can reach in an hour or so, but I will take the Citrus Groves and Orchid Greenhouses in Jesuit Bend any day. And if you love fishing, they have lots of that too.
  3. It’s not just about oranges. It’s about pride of place. As a West Banker, I empathize with the feeling of being overlooked and excluded. (In fact, at a recent event, someone told me that “Algiers doesn’t count” but this is a blog subject for another day.) Plaquemines Parish has one road, Highway 23, that runs from Belle Chasse to the Gulf of Mexico. It can be hard to connect folks who live miles apart from each other. The Orange Queen will be asked to make plans to promote and be inclusive of the whole parish, using the Orange Festival as a uniting force.

    Oranges are plentiful, but it’s about a lot more than citrus.
  4. The Orange Festival should be on everyone’s list. The Orange Festival has been a tradition for 77 years. Despite the coastal erosion that has affected their homes and their livelihoods, the people of Plaquemines Parish continue to gather at Fort Jackson every first full weekend in December to celebrate with each other. But please understand that this event is for everyone! Especially us New Orleanians, who make the drive to Gulf Shores for long weekends, or Baton Rouge for football games, we should all consider heading that same distance south to experience food and culture in our own backyard.
  5. The Future is Female. I was so impressed with the poise, confidence, and pride that all four semi-finalist contestants showed, both during our one-on-one interviews, and on stage in front of all their friends and families. They were able to proudly and succinctly articulate their thoughts, express their opinions, and communicate to us why they should be the next queen. These interpersonal skills will serve them well, no matter what path their lives take. Far from my expectations of a “pageant,” I experienced this competition as an opportunity for contestants to challenge stereotypes and instead become advocates for themselves and their communities.
We had a great time touring Plaquemines Parish, including this stop at Spirits Hall.

During our tour of the Parish, we saw Belle Danse Orchid Farm, spent time at Woodland Plantation (fun fact: the house is the image on the front of the Southern Comfort label), and we visited Spirits Hall, which is a beautiful old church from Port Sulfur, put on a barge and floated over to its new location to serve as a renovated bar and restaurant.

This December, I will be headed down the road myself so my family can have the full Orange Festival Experience, from carnival rides to shrimp peeling contests, to satsuma eating contests and even kumquat stuffing!

Save these details and I hope to see you there!

Plaquemines Parish Fair & Orange Festival
Friday, Dec. 1 (Carnival Only) – Sat Dec. 2 and Sun. Dec. 3, 2023
At Historic Fort Jackson in Buras, Louisiana

Stephanie Davi McNeely has been in and around the nonprofit fundraising space for nearly twenty years. She oversees development and strategic partnerships, for the ACE Mentor Program of America, a national nonprofit mentoring program based in Philadelphia. There she is responsible for corporate and individual fundraising initiatives, as well as the growth and development of national partnerships with design and construction firms. In her spare time, she plays mom’s league softball, watches her son play soccer, takes French class through the Alliance, and serves as the First Lady of the University of Holy Cross in Algiers. She resides in New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband and 11-year-old son.

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