OBF Court geared toward making their community and country a better place

This year’s Orange Blossom Festival Court are driven to make their community and country better by coming back after college, going into law enforcement

@TheSunGazette

LINDSAY – Lindsay’s celebration of spring and the bloom of its boon crop will be held April 7-15 this year with the theme “Driven to be the Best.” The week-long celebration will begin with the coronation of the Orange Blossom Festival Queen and the formal introduction of four Lindsay High School seniors who will serve as her OBF Court Attendants.

This year’s court consists of Ikonkar Khalsa, Angel Nicole Rocha, Audrey Bradford, and Marlene Gutierrez.

Ikonkar Khalsa

2018 OBF court attendant Ikonkar Kaur Khalsa, everyone around school knows her as just Khalsa, is a true representation of think global act local. Lindsay’s 17-year-old high school student is more unique than most. She is one of less than a handful of Sikh students on campus, and she makes a point to embrace her culture.

Ikonkar Khalsa, 2018 Orange Blossom Festival attendant

Ikonkar Khalsa, 2018 Orange Blossom Festival attendant

At the beginning of her sophomore year Khalsa expressed her heritage when she decided to wear a turban to school for the first time. Somewhat to her surprise, everyone was welcoming. Now Khalsa’s sister has followed in behind her and decided to wear a turban as well. Khalsa says the turban signifies equality in Sikh culture because it was at one time only proper for royalty to wear turbans, now that everyone can wear a turban a barrier is removed from those who are royal and those who are not. Although, her turban is most prominent, Khalsa also wears a kara and a kirpan. The kara is an iron bracelet that signifies god is always with you, and the kirpan is a small knife meant to signify a Sikh’s duty to uphold god’s will and defend others against evil. Khalsa says it is like wearing a uniform.

Khalsa has made a habit of traveling outside of Lindsay, and even outside of the United States. She travels to the Parliament of World Religions, held every year in a new place around globe. The purpose of the parliament is to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.

“By the end we realize how much we have in common…we realize there are all these different paths but the destination is the same,” Khalsa said.

Her first visit was when the parliament was held in Salt Lake City when she worked as a volunteer. This year’s weeklong conference will be held in Toronto, Canada. Khalsa plans to offer a presentation over the core values on the Sikh religion and then move forward to an open Q&A portion. But traveling to give presentations is not out of Khalsa’s wheelhouse by any stretch of the imagination.

Since the Performance Based System (PBS) was implemented at Lindsay High School, Khalsa has traveled around the country to speak on its highlights. She says she has presented on PBS in Florida, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, and Sacramento. Lindsay Unified puts Khalsa forward as an example of what PBS can do for student success. As a Sikh student in a largely Hispanic community, Khalsa was treated differently by other students, obviously since PBS was implemented when she entered high school her experience has differed entirely.

“I talk about how the environment was different [before PBS]…Before people didn’t know what they were doing, now they do. There are no gangs either, I think [Lindsay High School] is one of the safest schools in California,” Khalsa said.

In school Khalsa is involved in a number of different clubs such as My Voice, ASL (American Sign Language), Mock Trial Adventure Club, and Book Club. I have been the Secretary, Vice President of State Projects, and the President of FBLA. She has been awarded for her work in Future Business Leaders of America, while also serving as the clubs president, and Internnect (an engineering firm). But the involvement doesn’t stop there. Khalsa has proven her athleticism in sports as well.

As a requirement of the Sikh religion, Khalsa had to learn Gatka (Sikh martial arts), but for school she has played basketball, tennis, swimming and horse riding. All of which has been fun for her, but her goal moving forward past her senior year is to major in law enforcement and become an FBI agent.

Khalsa said she has gotten some strange looks from family members. She recognizes American Sikh’s largely want their sons and daughters to become doctors, but Khalsa believes being a part of law enforcement is a way to help represent the Sikh community going forward. Khalsa believes bringing diversity to law enforcement is one way to help improve law enforcement. She pointed out at conferences for PBS she has been mistaken for Muslim before, not necessarily in a bad way either.

“You know they just don’t know the difference,” Khalsa said.

But in American culture Sikh’s and Muslims are treated differently for different reasons and being a member of law enforcement introduces inherent officer level knowledge the agency might be lacking. And that is something this year’s OBF court member can provide.

Angel Nicole Rocha

Angel Nicole Rocha is a part of a four person court, but she sure knows how to be independent. Growing up as the only child to her parents Angel and Gloria, she says she is used to handling things on her own. But that doesn’t mean she was alone. Instead she had the love and support of her family.

“At school I’ve always been kept to myself and I’ve never been afraid of being unaccompanied. However, I was never really alone, my parents…are always by my side. They are the reason I am who I am today,” Nicole said.

Angel Nicole Rocha, 2018 Orange Blossom Festival attendant

Angel Nicole Rocha, 2018 Orange Blossom Festival attendant

She said her parents have taught a great many lessons in life. Among them are understanding she cannot make everyone happy all the time, and to never let a boy change her from being a Dallas Cowboys fan. Both are important in their own respects.

Nicole says her parents influence toward independence set her on a path since childhood. Never feeling the need to rest on someone’s assistance gave her the instinct to set her own standards high for the future. And since she was young, she realized she had a passion for creative and original things. Part of the ways she could express her drive was by engaging in the community she calls home. After all, Angel was born in Lindsay, raised in Lindsay, and has lived on the same street in Lindsay her entire life.

Throughout her high school career Nicole has participated heavily in Leadership, Engineering Club, the Internnect Team, Track and Field and the Ono Sister City Committee. But her extracurricular activity has not ended there.

“Besides the fact that I’ve never really joined a sport, I have been involved in cheerleading and dance ever since I was six years old. My freshman year my mom suggested we coach cheerleading, so there we went,” Nicole said.

For the last four years she has committed to coaching the Lindsay Junior Cardinal Cheerleaders, and she says she loves it. Their youth and willingness to learn inspires her every time she meets with them. In fact, they have had so much of an impact on her life she has begun to think about opening up a dance studio of her own when she’s older.

“The girls inspired me to do what makes me happy; my dream is to own a dance studio and inspire people of all ages to do what they love and to follow their dreams,” Nicole said.

While he dance studio dreams are a good dream to have, Nicole has other motivations as well. When she takes off to college this fall she wants to study in a field that helps others with physical and mental disabilities. She believes a degree in social work is one of the best ways to go. But what she is drawing on was a personal obstacle she had to overcome when she had surgery to repair a torn MCL. And mentally she knows how much a loving, supportive family can make a difference in a person’s life, because that’s what she has benefited from with her parents.

“I can understand the difficulty of getting over obstacles and I want to help people get over the same types of things I went through,” Nicole says. “I’m interested in psychology and helping people and this way I can help whether it is a physical challenge or a mental challenge.”

Audrey Bradford

Audrey Bradford will be an attendant in the Orange Blossom Festival court this spring, but she is so much more than that every other time of the year. Overall, she is involved in more clubs and services than most people have fingers and toes. But to name a few Audrey is a monthly volunteer for Helping One Woman (HOW) dinners.

HOW is a local organization where women donate money for their dinners and the proceeds are donated to a woman in need. In the past, recipients have been women who lost their spouse, had their home devastated by fire or been diagnosed with cancer. And while the money is not enough to replace the life of a loved one, build a new home or take care of the cost for treatment, it is enough to perhaps pay someone’s rent for the month, or buy a month’s worth of groceries.

Audrey Bradford, 2018 Orange Blossom Festival attendant

Audrey Bradford, 2018 Orange Blossom Festival attendant

But when she isn’t lending her time to HOW, she is a friendly face at the Lindsay Wellness Center front desk, or up on the tower looking for lives to save in the pool. Her most meaningful contribution might be with the Skimmers Swim Club. She does her best helping out the team as a competitor and coach. Audrey says she enjoys being part of the community because for one thing it keeps her occupied.

“I like being involved because it keeps me really busy. It’s too easy to be lazy if I don’t have enough to do,” Audrey joked.

Her work at the Wellness Center is only half of her extracurricular activities. In school Audrey has assumed the position of Art Club vice president, Yearbook Club secretary, and acted as both vice president and co-founder of the LGBTQ+ club at Lindsay High, which serves as a safe environment for people of all kinds. Just to top it off, she is also a member of LHS ASB and of Team EMPOWER.

While being a court attendant might just be one more thing to do, she takes the responsibility in stride just as her mother had. Audrey is in fact the second member of her family to be a court attendant. Her mother Carol Clements was previously a member of the OBF Court.

When it comes to Audrey’s true passion it is movies. When she graduates Audrey plans to take up a major in film at San Jose University, although not as an actress. Instead she likes all the work that goes on behind the scenes. Audrey is fascinated by storytelling, cinematography and post production work. And if you were to ask her she is practically doing the job already.

“I’m already a movie critic so I might as well get paid for it,” Audrey laughed. “I really like camera angles and you see things in the background that are important to the story. It’s just little subtleties like that.”

She admits some of her favorite movies are Star Wars and anything that Marvel Comics comes out with. But when she isn’t pouring over movies, she is working to encourage others to start coaching the local swim team, she makes no bones about being a dog lover and plays with her dogs as often as possible, while also studying space.

Marlene Gutierrez

All eyes might be on this year’s Orange Blossom Festival queen and her court, but court attendant Marlene Gutierrez might be too busy helping others to notice.

While most 17-year-old high school students spend their off time playing video games or just talking smack with their friends, Marlene is helping the less fortunate in her, and other, communities. But caring for others is something ingrained in her DNA.

Marlene Gutierrez, 2018 Orange Blossom Festival attendant

Marlene Gutierrez, 2018 Orange Blossom Festival attendant

“My entire family is very supportive and thankful which is why I feel I grew up to resemble their actions,” Marlene said. “Helping others is something my loving and supporting mother has always taught me. Therefore, giving back to the community, participating in school activities, playing sports, and even helping out my family is something that I live for.”

Inspired by her Advancement Visa Individual Determination (AVID) teacher, and Lindsay’s 2017 Man of the Year award winner, Adrian Gutierrez, Marlene has made it a habit of serving others on Thanksgiving day at the Visalia Rescue Mission. Marlene says she hosts and serves, and while she is volunteering the payment for her is hearing the stories of others.

“I get to listen to so many different people from all walks of life…it’s nice to be able to meet them and serve them and treat them for a king for a day,” Marlene says.

One exchange stands out to her the most. She said one man who came through the rescue mission believes all he needs is a change of clothes and god in his life.

“He said god is in everything and you don’t need to focus on a job to get money to get what you want. It’s about what life gives you to enjoy,” Marlene recounted.

Her affinity toward service is reflected in the positions she holds in her American Sign Language (ASL) club and AVID club. In both she has taken the position of president seriously. Her other clubs include Art and the California Scholarship Federation.

“In these clubs, it is my pleasure to always help guide fundraising opportunities as well as to share common awareness for these clubs so that more people feel welcomed and are excited to join them,” Marlene said.

For Marlene, being an OBF court attendant, helping to feed the less fortunate on holidays and being a part of four clubs is not enough. She also takes the time to show off her athleticism in school sports. She has been involved in varsity, volleyball, basketball, softball and track and has learned a great deal in what it takes to be a strong teammate and leader which has paid off in awards.

“Over the years playing sports, I have received Rookie of the Year for volleyball and basketball, MVP for volleyball, Most Offensive Player for softball, Most Defensive Player for basketball, and All League First Team for volleyball and softball,” Marlene said.

Tasks she takes on within community of Lindsay include helping the Chamber of Commerce, participating in the Christmas Toys for Tots drive, volunteering at the elementary schools, picking up trash around the community streets and distributing cookies for the Girl Scouts. And things for Marlene are about to get a bit more busy. After graduating this year she hopes to head off to the University of Washington, or if she gets a Smitt Camp Scholarship from Fresno State, she’ll move just up the 99, not too far away from home. One thing though is for certain, Marlene is coming back to help her community.

She says no matter where she goes her ultimate goal is to return to Lindsay.

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