Women of Pasadena: Nadia Chung and Loretta Whitesides

In light of the 2022 Tournament of Roses Parade theme—“Dream. Believe. Achieve.”—you could imagine a conversation between a future astronaut and a Rose Queen veering toward the superlative. But when Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides, author of The New Right Stuff: Using Space to Bring Out the Best in You and founder of SpaceKind, and La Cañada High School senior and 2022 Rose Queen Nadia Chung talk about dreaming big, what becomes apparent is how grounded they are. A three-decade age difference notwithstanding, these inspiring leaders discuss what it’s like to have a rich life ahead while processing how far they’ve come.

Nadia Chung

Nadia Chung: I’ve always been somebody who dreams outrageously big and am lucky to have family support me in those dreams, even when they don’t seem practical. Like when I was 13, I wanted to start ballet, even when I had no reason to be doing ballet and I didn’t seem particularly talented at the start. I started in a class with 6-year-olds and came to the point where going professional was looking like an option. Or when I was first announced onto the Rose Court, it felt daunting to go to events and be put into a position I had been looking up to my whole life.

Loretta Whitesides: When I’m coaching undergrads and young professionals, and I’m reminding them to dream big, I’m also reminding them to ask for help and be considerate of who they are. What happens, as you can imagine, with us type-A people, is we go through life checking off accomplishments, and then just moving the goalpost further. So, OK, I got a suborbital spaceflight. But I haven’t done an orbital spaceflight. You just pick some other thing that you need to do to make it. It’s a really dangerous game; it’s an addiction like anything else.

NC: That’s such a critical point for me to hear now, being a senior in high school. Before our conversation, I was reading about you and thought, oh my goodness, she’s incredible. I feel like I shouldn’t be speaking to her. And now that I am, hearing your voice, I know you’re human and have experienced things that I can learn from. I see that we don’t have to be perfect in every way in order to achieve our dreams.

Loretta Whitesides

LHW: Exactly, perfection is not the goal. Being perfect is too exhausting; that’s for Instagram. How much more fun do you have when you are with your best friends? You let your hair down and you can be yourself. I think that’s what I’m trying to reflect back to younger people. I’m now 47. I’ve been in the Obama White House for a Christmas party, I’ve bought my ticket to fly to space, I’ve traveled beneath the ocean with James Cameron, and I’ve flown weightless some 80 different times on a plane. These are all things that would have floored me as a teenager. And the truth is that after each of those high points, I came home, took off my gown, and was back to being me. I had all these moments of glory, and each one faded really fast. I had to make sure I was dreaming big, responsibly, being healthy along the way, and practicing gratitude so I didn’t just get to the top of the mountain and feel really lonely. I learned to really love who I was at the end of the day.

NC: Dreaming big responsibly, I love that. For me, being part of the Rose Parade felt like a huge, full-circle moment, with how beautiful the procession is and seeing all the people who came out to celebrate. Especially because we’ve all been through so much through the pandemic, to see how many people came out, ready for the New Year, inspired me, as your story inspires me. I’m just curious, what was it like to be weightless?

LHW: It’s like being in the womb. Like, yes, I belong here, I’m floating and feeling completely at home. And at the other end of the exact same moment, it feels completely foreign and exotic. My favorite part is that it turns adults into kids. You know how adults are hard to impress and don’t pay much attention to anything but their phones? When they’re going up in the plane, they turn into kids again because they can’t predict what’s going to happen. When you’re weightless, your physics model of the world that you made when you were 2 or 3 years old is wrong. So, you turn into a 3-year-old with your brain being like, what is going on? Instead of being asleep at the wheel, you have to be totally present.

NC: I want to be more present, because, being a senior, I’m at a period of transition. I am looking forward to a lot of things, and I will be leaving behind a lot of things. And I guess I find myself often thinking retrospectively, but also thinking about the future—so much so, that I have to remind myself of what is important in the moment right now.

LHW: Yes, absolutely. Going on a G-Force One flight, it’s not exotic. It’s just a 747. You can have the magic of that weightless moment on a simple level, just by stopping and being present to a leaf, or the fact that we have oxygen, free and abundant, on the surface of this planet, or that gravity is holding us to the surface instead of us flying off into the cosmos. Anywhere, anytime, you can feel that same kind of magic by just getting lost in the present moment.