Reliving girls' formal awards ceremony
| Another dull award ceremony? Sometimes we fail to realize how much pomp and circumstance means to young people. When I was a girl we had a lot more of it, and those occasions stand out in my memory. I still recall the nervousness, the excitement, the pride, the hard work, and the sheer joy of it.
All Baptist churches had a Women’s Missionary Union, and they sponsored a Girls’ Auxiliary, or GA’s (which no longer exits). Our primary goal was to learn about missionaries and to support their work. We only met once a month and on special occasions. Most mothers were stay-at-home moms at that time, so we met after school. Each month we had a special community service project as well as a lesson complete with games and crafts. We actually learned a lot about geography and world cultures.
We also had year long projects called “Forward Steps”. We memorized Bible verses, did outside projects, made maps, tried foreign recipes, wrote essays, and so forth for credit, as age appropriate for each stage. These were optional and not all the girls completed the whole list each year, but most did so. At the end of the year, we were rewarded with a special recognition ceremony, a “coronation”.
The GA coronation took place on a warm Sunday evening before the whole church. Churches weren't air-conditioned back then, so people would be fanning with paper fans with an ad from the local funeral home on the back. After practicing the routine in the afternoon, we went home to fix our hair and put on our pastel colored dresses. We showed up in pink, baby blue, mint green and lavender, wearing dainty pearl bracelets and necklaces, our dresses of organza, or other spring fabrics with lace and small ruffles or smocking. Our shoes were shiny patent leather or polished white
The first year girls, usually forth graders, were going to become “maidens”. We sat up in the balcony during the opening hymns and prayers. Then on the first short trumpet fanfare, we maidens who had slipped quietly down the steps began to march down the aisle. We got onto the podium in a straight line, and then delivered our part, whether it was to say a Bible verse in unison or to answer a pre-arranged question one-by-one. Then the lady in charge, wearing a corsage, would come up, give us a charge to be wise and grow up in God’s service, pronounce that we were now maidens in a royal court, and pin a green felt octagon on us.
She explained the green stood for growth and used a straight pin to put one on each of us. Then as the organ played, we turned around and marched into the choir loft behind us. Then we had a great view, as we faced the whole church and could see all the beaming faces, our families, and all the girls still remaining in the balcony.
The next year we would become “ladies-in-waiting”. To girls who had read about King Arthur’s court, and were prone to fantasy, the titles were definitely getting better. We were becoming more “noble”. We crept down the steps at the proper time. When the trumpet played the second fanfare, we started down the aisle, just like the maidens, trying to be dignified. We did our presentation on the podium and then met a similar charge. This time we received a white felt star which was pinned onto the green octagon. We were told the white stood for purity. We then turned and joined the maidens in the choir loft.
The third year, we became “princesses” for our achievement. What little girl, even at age 11, does not want to be a princess? The emblem now had a gold GA pinned onto the star. Now that I look back, it’s amazing that no one ever lost their felt emblem from year to year. It was always in perfect shape. We’d sew or glue on each addition, so that we wouldn’t have so many pins the following year. At Eagle Eyrie GA camp, I learned that many churches bought shiny cardboard emblems from the Baptist book store, but we were always happy with our homemade felt ones, deciding that they were prettier.
But this wasn’t the end. The fourth year, we became queens. This was the major goal, our dream. Now we would proceed to be recognized one at a time. And no street length pastel dress! Now we would wear floor length white gowns and white satin shoes. Most of our mothers made our gowns. Talk about feeling elegant! We were perfumed and wore slight make-up and walked on air. And to add to the ceremony, we each had a flower girl and a crown bearer, preschoolers formally dressed and ready to steal the show with their cuteness and their antics. It was our job to keep them quiet in the choir loft.
Now as the first queen waited in the back foyer, the trumpet played a longer fanfare while ushers pulled out the white carpet from the back to the ront. As the organ played, the flower girl was nudged forward and she would spill out rose petals onto the white carpet. Then a few steps back, the queen stepped out. looking lovely and young and happy. Then someone would send out the crown bearer carrying a white satin pillow with a crown on top. If all went well, they’d all three would arrive on the podium without help.
The preschoolers would stand close by while the queen spoke into a microphone, delivering an outline of the life of Christ, or Paul’s missionary journeys, or an essay on where she planned to be in 15 years. The lady in charge of queens would pin on the last part of the emblem, a gold octagon frame to fit the green solid octagon. Then the queen would bow to be crowned. The crown would be taken from the pillow and placed on the girls head.
This was a dramatic moment recognized even by young boys. My younger brothers attended when I was a maiden, and they knew that being crowned a queen was a high honor. One of them told my mother later that he wanted that for me. He wanted to see his sister crowned queen. All the younger girls dreamed of being crowned queen. As younger girls, we had sat in the choir loft, watching the queens give their speeches, being crowned, and handling their attendants. We admired and envied these older girls and anticipated our turn next year, or the year after.
The crown was not the store bought crown, but again was better. It was a cardboard base, over which white satin had been sewn. The satin was covered with white and pearl sequins. It was beautiful. It was every girl’s dream of feminine delight. They were flat when we first saw them; but then they were custom-fitted for each girl. One of the ladies volunteered to do a rush job sewing the overlapped ends before our coronation. Each crown was a prized possession and put away safely to be used again. Most of the girls I knew still had them as adults.
Then to organ music. the queen would take her attendants into the choir loft on the next row up. Once she was seated, the trumpet announced the next queen. And the whole ceremony would be repeated. We did indeed feel regal sitting in that choir loft, looking out at the congregation. We were proud, we were beautiful, we were on display. For this one night, we ruled.
There were two more years and two more stages. The next was a “queen-with-a-scepter”. The trumpet played a longer fanfare than for the regular queens. The queen went down the aisle as in the previous year with a flower girl and a scepter bearer, walking on layers of rose petals, a year older, and more graceful, more deliberate. The emblem was complete and pinned on her new white gown. She was rewarded with a golden scepter (made of wood and gold spray paint), with a big green tassel. The afternoon practice had included how to hold it and carry it regally.
The final stage was a “queen regent”, for which the reward was a green satin cape with a gold lining. Very few girls reached this step as the tasks were harder and more time-consuming. Usually the girls who got this far had mothers involved in the WMU who gave them greater encouragement. The cape was folded and placed on the satin pillow to be carried by her little boy attendant.
I myself took the last two years to complete one step. So I only got as far as the scepter. But I remember it like last night. My neighbor had put my hair up in a French twist. The dress Mom had made had a square neckline which showed off my high collar bone. (I haven’t seen that collar bone in years!) My shoes were the pointy toe high heels we wore at that age. I had to be careful not to put the heel through the hem as I maneuvered my preschoolers in the balcony and down the steps quietly. I felt so grown up. I used my best posture and spoke clearly into the microphone. My sequined, satin crown was pinned securely to my hairdo.
After all the girls were seated in the choir loft, there was more prayer and singing. As we sang “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, all the queens and above prepared for the dramatic last verse. As we began the chorus for the last time, we were to lift our beautiful crowns from our heads simultaneously and offer them up to God.
I forgot about the bobby pins. I had to hold the hymn book in one hand and use the other to remove the pins on both sides. I looked down at the first row of women while I struggled. The WMU president, who also had a French twist, was smiling at me. I smiled back. This was, in my young mind, a knowing moment between two women, not an adult and a child. My moment in the adult world did not mar the significance of the ritual.
All those girls who had crowns had worked hard to earn them and were so proud of them. Yet, now they were offering them to Christ, the King of Heaven. These beautiful crowns (I mentioned they were satin and sequins, right?) we would offer our prized possesions, the fruit of our labor, to Jesus, who deserved our best. The hymn has borne special meaning for me ever since. Young women, teetering between childhood and adulthood, were ready to give wholeheartedly a beautiful treasure, for their Lord and Savior.
After the final benediction, we posed for many pictures while our families went to a reception and looked at displays with the rest of the church. We accepted the hugs and congratulatory words from many church members, many of whom had been teachers or family fiends.
I have marveled over the years, as I reminisce at the dedication and hard work of all those ladies who made the event possible year after year. We have such wonderful memories, we learned a lot, and it helped build up our confidence. It gave us a missionary zeal that you don’t find in churches any more. But the discipline and time it took to pull off the ceremony was worth it. Kids today could use a little of that old pomp and circumstance. I will never regret mine.