Gabby Giffords serves as grand marshal of Rose Parade

Wave Wire Services

PASADENA — The 134th Rose Parade Jan. 2 was a spectacle of flower-covered floats, musical performances by marching bands from across the country and a host of equestrians, with thousands of spectators lining Colorado Boulevard and other Pasadena streets to witness the annual tradition.

The parade stepped off promptly at 8 a.m., opening with a performance by Fitz and The Tantrums aboard the Honda float “Forever Determined.” The parade then made its way along its traditional 5 1/2-mile route, moving east along Colorado Boulevard to northbound Sierra Madre Boulevard, ending at Villa Street.

This year’s parade theme was “Turning the Corner,” with Tournament of Roses President Amy Wainscott saying it was meant to celebrate the potential of every new year and rising above challenges.

“Whether that corner is actual or figurative like the unlimited potential that each new year brings — we all enjoy the opportunity of a fresh start,” Wainscott said in a statement. “Turning a corner means rising above — alone, or with family, friends and community. This year, as we turn the corner together, we share in the hope, beauty and joy of what 2023 will bring.”

Leading the parade was grand marshal Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head during an assassination attempt in January 2011 and has become an outspoken gun-control advocate.

Discussing how her experience matched the parade theme of “Turning the Corner,” Giffords said in October, “Our lives can change so quickly. Mine did when I was shot. But I never gave up hope. I chose to make a new start, to move ahead, to not look back.” 

Wainscott hailed Giffords as a “trailblazer,” noting that she was  the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona state Senate before moving onto Congress.

She was re-elected to a second term beginning in 2011, but her tenure was cut tragically short,” Wainscott said, referring to the shooting that occurred during a community event near Tucson that nearly killed her. Giffords survived the shooting, but she had to re-learn how to walk and speak.

What followed was an arduous journey of recovery that included physical, occupational and speech therapy,” Wainscott said.

Giffords was able to return to the House of Representatives later that year, but she submitted her resignation in January 2012, one day after attending President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address.

Giffords is married to former astronaut and current Arizona U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly.

In an annual tradition, the parade was overseen by the seven-member Royal Court, made up of Pasadena-area high school girls chosen for their public speaking, academic achievement, youth leadership and community involvement.

The court, which had already taken part in dozens of community events leading up to the parade, was led by 104th Rose Queen Bella Ballard, an Altadena resident and senior at The Ogburn School. Rounding out the Royal Court were: Salia Baligh, a Pasadena resident and senior at Alverno Heights Academy; Michelle Cortez-Peralta, a Pasadena resident and senior at Pasadena High School; Adrian Crick, an Altadena resident and senior at Sequoyah School; Zoe Denoncourt, a Pasadena resident and senior at Marshall Fundamental; Sahanna Rajinikanthan, an Arcadia resident and senior at Arcadia High School; and Uma Wittenberg, a La Cañada resident and senior at La Cañada High School.

More than 20 marching bands marched during the parade, hailing from as far away as China, Panama, Italy and Japan. Also featured were bands from the two universities participating in the Rose Bowl Game — Utah and Penn State.

Sixteen equestrian units also took part, including the Budweiser Clydesdales, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Mounted Detail, the New Buffalo Soldiers and the U.S. Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard.

But the highlight of the parade by far was the procession of ornate floats, all of which must be completely covered by flowers or other natural materials, such as leaves, seeds, fruits, vegetables or bark. The floats were meticulously crafted over several months, beginning with the understructure and concluding with the arduous task of applying flower petals and other materials, generally one piece at a time.

A total of 39 floats took part in this year’s procession. Some of them were sponsored by local cities, such as Torrance, Burbank, Downey and Alhambra — each touting local attractions, while others were funded by businesses such as Kaiser Permanente, American Honda, Trader Joe’s and Snapchat.

Also entering floats were NASCAR, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the Building Industry Association of Southern California and Blue Diamond Growers. Cal Poly Universities presented its annual student-designed and built float. 

And for the 20th year, the Donate Life float celebrated the impact of organ donors. This year’s Donate Life float featured a Chinese street dragon — a symbol of power, good fortune and strength. The float again featured dozens of “floragraphs,” or floral photographs, of those who have given the gift of life through organ donation. Several living donors rode aboard the float.

Following the parade, the floats went on display at the Floatfest at Sierra Madre and Washington boulevard, giving spectators a chance to a get a close-up look at the creations.