Jordan’s grace on the stage, confident nature and love for her community led to her receiving the crown Saturday night.
McKenna Jordan, 17, was one of 29 girls who graced the stage at the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds Saturday evening hoping to be lucky enough to claim the coveted crown.
Top 10 was called and she joined the other girls on the stage. Then top five was announced, and soon her name echoed around the building as the 2020 Strawberry Queen Meghan White placed the crown on Jordan’s head. It was a night she’ll remember for the rest of her life and she said she’s ready to work hard representing the festival in what is sure to be a year unlike any other.
Last year, the Florida Strawberry Festival was one of the last in the country to be held before the rapid arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic brought activities to an immediate close. When the 2021 festival opens its gates, it will be one of the first in the nation to do so. In order to keep all attendees safe, the festival has already announced big changes to the upcoming event including canceling all headline concerts. More changes are on the way as the clock ticks ever closer to opening.
“I’d say that I’m most looking forward to serving as the Strawberry Queen through such a hard time as this pandemic,” Jordan said. “It’s a big responsibility, but I do think it will be such an honor to represent the festival during this time. I hope that we can help have that positive outlook for the festival and just bring some joy to people’s lives, because so many people have been without that for a long time now.”
The pageant also reflected the new reality the world is still living in. Tickets were cut off well before the room reached capacity — though approximately 600 people still attended — and the Lions Club of Plant City offered a new way to view the event: a Zoom viewing.
Hundreds bought the virtual ticket and watchers tuned in from their homes, restaurants and even their cars. In a way, the virtual ticket opened the door for even more people to watch the massive event, which typically is the talk of the town for months to come. So many people logged on at the start of the pageant that the site crashed. Luckily it was quickly fixed and everyone was eventually able to tune in.
Jordan, whose bold character and confidence were praised by her fellow court members, said she and the rest of the court members know they’re going to have an experience unlike any court before them. But she said they’re ready to do their part to make sure every person who walks onto the festival grounds feels the same hometown, welcoming atmosphere that has always been present.
The new Queen was born and raised in Plant City and is a part of the Parke family, a foundation of the community, a legendary strawberry growing family and the creators of the Parkesdale Farm Market. She remembers her aunt Sandee Sytsma sneaking her into the palace as a child to meet the Queen and Court and said she always knew she wanted to make those memories with a group of friends of her own.
“I hope to share that mindset of always being kind and be empathetic toward others while I’m Queen,” Jordan said. “You have no idea what others are going through and it’s really important to treat everyone with as much kindness and respect and love that you can.”
Every member of the court this year echoed that vow and said they hope they are able to bring a warm and welcoming presence with them everywhere they go.
Part of her success, she believes, came from a simple piece of advice her father taught her growing up. She said he is her biggest role model and he taught her that any job you do is worth doing to the best of your ability.
“He taught me that no matter what, the most important thing is to be myself,” Jordan said. “That’s what I would tell anyone who wants to go out for the pageant in the future. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. My evening gown was very simple and a lot of my family members weren’t sure if the judges would like it, but that wasn’t why I was doing the pageant. I was going to be who I wanted to be and if the judges didn’t like that, that was OK. But it turns out they want to see your genuine self. So don’t overthink it. Be yourself.”
Her favorite thing to do is attend the Grand Parade every year with her family. She said they set up a big tent, sit by the side of the route and have a great day. Kids run around playing and having a great time and the family catches up and spends time enjoying the fun experience together. She heavily encourages anyone who hasn’t attended the parade before to make it a priority with their loved ones.
That family atmosphere wove through the entire pageant. The court said everyone who went out for the pageant clicked from day one and supported and cheered each other on. The new court hopes to bring that element of camaraderie with them wherever they go.
“The festival, it isn’t like anything else,” Jordan said. “It’s the pride of this community and people feel like they have a sense of ownership to it. They have memories there, they are making new memories there. This is a small town and this is ours and we all feel responsible to make sure that it is a wonderful experience for every person that attends.”
What made you want to go out for the pageant?
M- My great-grandparents are Roy and Helen Parke, so when my dad and stepmom got married I was married into the family. Parkesdale is a huge part of who I am now and the festival is a huge part of them. Growing up, it was me always being at the festival and my Aunt Sandee (Sytsma) was always sneaking me into the Palace and seeing girls and seeing (the Queen and Court’s) stations. I always thought that was absolutely amazing and I would love to be a part of this experience and to get to be a part of what they do for others in the community.
What was your family’s reaction when your name was called?
M- My dad immediately ran toward the stage and gave me a fist-bump. He did that for me in Calendar Girl last year. He was in tears. My whole family was in tears. My aunt and uncle were at O’Brien’s and someone there was watching it on their phone and started yelling out that I had been crowned. So the whole restaurant freaked out and the band stopped what they were doing and then played a song for all of us. I thought it was really cool.
If you could pick one word to sum up your personality, what would it be?
M- I’m going to say my word is “bold.” I am not afraid to say what I’m thinking or feeling and I’m not afraid to stick up for other people, When I set my mind to something, I do it.
What are you most excited for at the festival?
M- I’d say I’m most looking forward to serving as the Strawberry Queen through such a hard time as this pandemic. It’s a big responsibility, but I do think it will be such an honor to represent the festival during this time. I hope that we can help have that positive outlook for the festival and just bring some joy to people’s lives, because so many people have been without that for a long time now.
We’ve been locked up for a year. What shows/movies/books/video games did you binge to get through it?
M- I’ve watched all of “You” in 24 hours. That was addicting. I also rewatched “The Vampire Diaries.” That has been a lot of fun.
Do all of you use TikTok? If so what niche side are you on? BookTok? FoodieTok? AltTok/EliteTok? ArtTok?
M- CatTok. My For You Page is just cat videos everywhere.
What’s next for you?
M- My school is undecided, but right now I hope to attend UCF to study nursing. I had back surgery and I don’t remember a whole lot from that week, but I remember the way my nurses treated me. That’s what’s important. I don’t remember the pain I was in, but I remember the way they made me feel. I want to be a Pediatric ER nurse to help other kids they way they helped me.
Which famous person in history would you want to spend the day with?
M-Shawn Mendes. I had scoliosis surgery and right after the surgery, I went to his concert and he grabbed my hand. He came to Tampa and came with Camilla to Oxford Exchange. We all joked that we had just missed them.
What fictional character do you most relate to?
M- Alex from “Wizards of Waverly Place.” She’s bold and sarcastic and not afraid to say what she’s thinking. And she really values her friends and family and looks out for them.