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Chronicle Staff

Although the highlights of the night are different for each girl, the moment each was presented to society as a debutante is the same.  Standing alone in the glow of the spotlight, encircled by an arch of colorful flowers, their names were announced by the booming voice of Emcee NBC4 news anchor Chris Schauble as they took their first bow in a ballroom of friends and family. 

Seniors Alison Griffin, Gabrielle Horton, Rochelle Osei-Tutu, Tasia Smith and Janaye Walker became debutantes Nov. 23 at the 56th annual Los Angeles Chapter of The Links cotillion at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The Links, Incorporated, founded in 1946, “is one of the oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of women who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry,” according to their website. 

“At first, I had a vision of being one of those fairytale princesses in our big white dresses, but other than that I didn’t think it was exactly my thing,” Smith said.  “I didn’t know if I would have the time to meet all the requirements.”

To become a debutante, an applicant must be 17 or a high school senior, complete a profile and be sponsored by a member of the Los Angeles Chapter. 

“I became a debutante mostly because my mom wanted me to,” Smith said.

Griffin, however, had different motives.

“I figured before I go to college I should do something girly since I have been a tomboy all my life, and it would be important to learn life skills,” she said. 

Each girl was interviewed by the event chairs before the program began in April.  The program’s main focus is to promote community service, which is enforced by a 75-hour service requirement. 

Griffin and Walker worked at the Summer Enrichment Program at the Middle School for inner-city fifth and sixth graders, while Smith did various projects including working at the Sherman Oaks Library.

The participants attended five of the 10 Links Services to Youth workshops, where etiquette classes were mandatory. 

Other sessions included a business and financial management class, a personal hygiene and safety class and sleepover, a personal meditation class, a museum trip, a cultural dance session and a legal workshop.

Each participant wrote  an essay answering the question “How have you blossomed into a Beautiful Flower?”, which was the event’s theme.  The contest awarded $1,000. There was an award for community service, and one for the highest GPA, which  Smith won.

As the cotillion approached, the girls faced the daunting task of finding a dress. 

“We had numerous dress fittings later on in the process,” Horton said.  “We actually had an entire binder of do’s and don’ts and explanation of all the rules.”

Horton had her dress hand-made. “My aunt is a seamstress so she and I had talked in advance about what I wanted,” she said. 

Each participant needed an escort.  Although the Harvard-Westlake girls had out-of-school escorts, seniors Gaven Lucas  and Colin Turner escorted two other girls. 

Once school started, there were weekly three and a half hour rehearsals. Although this was a big time commitment, the girls enjoyed bonding with the debutantes and their fathers and escorts. 

Walker believes this experience brought her closer with her father. 

“Since this was new to both of us it was a great bonding experience,” she said.  “I was able to connect and have fun with my dad.”

The time commitment proved to be a challenge once school started.

“The [rehearsals] were already long, and because of traffic and the location it took us an hour and a half to get there some nights,” Smith said.  “Tuesday nights were pretty much shot, homework-wise.”
The day of the debutante ball was filled with hair and makeup appointments, portraits, and last minute details. Smith’s day, was even more hectic than the others. 

Her Girl Scout troop was competing in the Southwestern Sea Scout Rendezvous at Port Hueneme, so her father drove her back and forth between the events throughout the weekend. 

“I’m still catching up on sleep,” she said. 

As guests arrived for the ball, the debutantes stayed in a holding room for three hours. 

“I kept thinking the next time I see my parents I will be on stage, and I hope I don’t trip because my dress is too long, and I hope I’m smiling because I need to smile so that I have good pictures,” Osei-Tutu said. 

Walker thinks the cotillion was a good way to start her senior year.

“I am still growing up and new experiences will come my way, but I think the program has presented me into womanhood, and it is now my job to keep walking through it,” she said. 

“Not everyone can say they were a debutante, but when you find someone who has shared this experience, you instantly feel connected and close with them,” Horton said. 

“I just met a lady last weekend who came out through the LA Chapter of the Links 30 years ago, and although that’s a long time ago, we still could laugh about being nervous when you’re being officially presented and wearing those long white gloves.”