A week after freshly crowned Rose Festival Queen Deja Fitzwater begins settling into college life across the country, the recent Tigard High School grad will be back home in Oregon, fulfilling royal duties at the Pendleton Round-Up.
And for Queen Deja, the first Tigard student to wear the crown, there could be no event more fitting than the rodeo.
Fitzwater, who became the 109th queen in June after spending spring as the Metro West Rose Festival Court princess, was raised a city kid whose heart lives soundly in the country.
The 18-year-old is a longtime 4-H member and ambassador who lives with her mother across the river in Clackamas, went to school in Tigard, cares for a small menagerie of farm animals in Sandy, and spent her childhood traveling every six weeks or so to her grandparent’s Northern Idaho farm.
“I have my feet in both worlds,” she said. “I’m more of a farm girl than a city girl.”
Though she’s often on the go, she’s also firmly rooted in Tigard, where she was an honor student who managed the school’s wrestling team, played varsity lacrosse, and served as the vice president of the International Thespian Society chapter.
“My life has happened in Tigard,” she said. “My schools, my sports, my theatre, my community are all in Tigard. I am very proud to say I’m a Tigard High School alumnus.”
School counselors encouraged her to pursue a spot on the Rose Festival Court, and seeing Tigard principal Melissa Baran in the coronation crowd made the moment of hearing her name announced extra sweet.
“It was really special to me to know she was there,” Fitzwater said.
Although Fitzwater is poised, articulate, and had recently finished a year-long stint as the Miss America pageant’s Outstanding Teen for Oregon, she did not expect to sit on the Rose Festival throne.
“I was not prepared (to hear my name). I was resigned to not winning,” she said. “When I heard (Queen Deja), I was like, ‘what’ Those two words seem like they shouldn’t go together.” From (that weekend) I went straight to graduating. It was a kind of crazy and surreal experience.”
One that included a Grand Floral Parade float ride packed with opportunities to acclimate to her new title, as she heard “Queen Deja from Tigard High School” announced again and again along the route.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without Tigard,” she said.
Where she is, is on her way to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with a four-year presidential scholarship that will cover most of her tuition, and a handful of smaller scholarships – including $3500 awarded to members of the Rose Court – to help with room and board.
She plans to follow her combined passions to dual degrees in secondary science education and technical theater, on her way to a teaching career focused on bringing agriculture education to urban schools.
“Agriculture is our lifeblood, and a lot of kids in the city don’t know it,” she said. “I want to change that.”
The University of Alabama is an appealing next stop in part because students can chart their course in the school’s New College program. If secondary science education and theatre don’t quite match her vision, she’ll design a degree more precisely aligned with her goals.
Along the way, she’ll keep up with wrestling as manager of Alabama’s intercollegiate wrestling club – the school doesn’t have a varsity team. Some of her most formative high school experiences came during four years as the equipment and then the team manager at Tigard.
“I will really miss that group, that team, those coaches,” she said. “I’ll consider the coaches lifelong mentors.”
Fitzwater will be back and forth to Oregon for royal appearances until next summer, when the crown is placed on her successor’s head.
For now, she’s looking forward to the Round-Up and Pendleton, a spot she and the Court visited as princesses, and a place where both of her worlds beautifully synch.
“Riding in the (Round Up) arena was one of the most special experiences on the tour,” she said. “It will be the perfect event to come back for.”