An Ode to the Azalea Festival

Essays and poems lauding an annual Wilmington tradition

BY Staff

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Allison Potter

Essays and poems lauding an annual Wilmington tradition that includes young girls dressed in antebellum gowns in the gardens. Wrightsville Beach Magazine is thrilled to sponsor the North Carolina Azalea Festival High School Writing Competition again this year.

Some of Southeastern North Carolina’s brightest public, private and home-schooled students from grades 9 to 12 took pen to paper to write tributes to one of Wilmington’s favorite traditions — the annual Azalea Festival.

Here are the top three essays and poems, as chosen by Azalea Festival team members and WBM staff.

The 73rdNorth Carolina Azalea Festival, scheduled for April 1-5, 2020, has been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.Festival staff are rescheduling some beloved signature events for the fall, including the Main Stage Concerts, Airlie Luncheon Garden Party, and even the Street Fair and Parade, Azalea Festival Executive Director Alison Baringer English announced March 18, 2020. The ticket office is closed to the public and staff are working remotely.

“We know you may have questions … please hold tight,” English says. “[We will] help our region celebrate even bigger once we make it on the other side of this thing. As I am sure you all know, the economic impact the Azalea Festival brings to our region will be so, so important.”

Our plan is to hold the remaining Azalea Festival features we had created for you until that time.

See how COVID-19 has affected the Azalea Festival here:

Essay Winner

Madison Aloia

Jones Senior High school, Trenton, NC

10th grade

Azalea Heritage

In a historic downtown, flowers of many shades fill the streets. Flowers ranging from white to the most eye-catching pink nature could possibly make. A sense of pride and ancestry fill the air to all who call this place home while it excites those visiting.

The beauty of the town, handmade by those who adore it, fills the streets and busy sidewalks. Little children with wonder-filled eyes look up with admiration to the floats that they flock to see. Little girls stare in awe in hopes of being an Azalea Belle when they grow up.

In a diverse state, filled with long kept traditions and an alluring geography, everyone able gathers to watch and celebrate. A unified community admires a beautiful symbol as well as carrying out traditions put in place by generations past. This is a festival dedicated to keeping Southern hospitality and community honor alive for future generations.

The sweet and calming smell of petite, pink flowers fill the air whilst the sense of hope fills each individual’s heart. The historic charm allures those not native and the heritage unites locals. This is a time-honored tradition meant to keep a historic town alive as well as celebrate past achievements.

This is the Azalea Festival.

Madison’s essay is quite remarkable in that she has never been to the Azalea Festival yet was able to recount the Festival’s story through research and interviews with past festivalgoers. She plays on her school’s volleyball team and was recently selected to be a Governor’s Page. She is an officer in her local Future Farmers of America chapter and plans to major in agricultural engineering when she graduates high school.

Essay Second Place

Ashley Gorsett

Wilmington Christian Academy

11th grade

Azalea Connection

April welcomes the blossoming multitude of azaleas marking the beginning of the annual Azalea Festival. Wilmington displays its local pride and remarkable beauty throughout the city.

The young and young-at-heart fill the streets to behold the traditional Azalea Festival Parade. Luscious gardens filled with fragrant azaleas accompany the brimful crowds buzzing with excitement over the events that will fill their day. Dazzled by all of the vivid parade floats and street-food aromas, family and friends share the packed day celebrating their community with visitors from near and far.

Women and men, in their refined dress, attend various garden parties and tours that boast the spectacle of the red, pink, and white bursts of color. Azalea Belles become the envy and aspiration of young girls as the Victorian-style dresses captivate their attention. Wilmington’s best is shown through the cultural diversity and Southern charm of the Azalea Festival.

The blossomed azalea’s renewed natural beauty, reflected in the Belles and events, connect the community, uniting it in lasting pride.

Ashley rode in the Azalea Festival parade as a young child and that experience left a lasting impression on her. She sees the Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles as an iconic part of our community and aspires to be one next year. She plans to attend college after graduation and study in the math and science field. She enjoys watching old movies and learning from her grandfather how to make Brunswick stew the old-fashioned way in a large iron kettle on an open fire. Fun fact: William Shakespeare is her 16th cousin twice removed!

Essay Honorable Mention

Mairead Benson

John T. Hoggard High School

10th grade

Azalea Charm

The Azalea Festival is such an integral part of the culture of our town, but when I first moved to Wilmington, I didn’t know very much about it. I knew that there was a parade, as there is with most festivals, and some street vendors selling treats and trinkets to those attending the events. I knew there are girls dressed up as Southern belles and some small youth performances downtown, but that was pretty much it.

Every year in my elementary school art class, my art teacher encouraged us to submit a work of art for the Youth Art Contest. I never won anything, as I’m not the best artist when it comes to pencils and paints, but it did pique my interest in learning more about the Azalea Festival … a festival in honor of a flower.

But it is not just about the flower that you see everywhere you look in the spring in Wilmington. Our Azalea Festival is held each year to honor Southern traditions, the resilience and strength of our community, and our coastal paradise of a home, Wilmington. We are celebrating the end of winter, despite having some unseasonably warm days, and beginning the countdown to summer.

The vendors lining the streets of downtown Wilmington are local artists selling their masterpieces to eager shoppers. The Azalea Belles are juniors and seniors from the local high schools, chosen to help give the Festival its signature Southern feel. The small performances are put on by some of the local dance studios and theater companies, to entertain festivalgoers as they make memories that will last a lifetime.

Several years ago, I participated in one of those performances, and I saw the effect the Azalea Festival has on our town. It brings our town closer than ever before. Friends and families come together to celebrate their struggles and triumphs from the past year, and to celebrate the bonds of friendship — the ones we have had for decades and the ones we have not yet made.

But what stood out to me the most was how Wilmington, just like her azaleas, grows at this time of year, no matter what. She grows stronger because of the love that flows through her, the love of friends, families, and a strong and devoted community. And no matter what hardships come her way, even a hurricane, she will only grow stronger.

Mairead likes all her subjects in school but particularly enjoys English and World History. She was selected to the Governor’s School of North Carolina this summer in the choral music category. In her spare time, she plays golf, goes to the beach and spends time on the family sailboat. She is active in the Eastern Carolina Episcopal Diocese Youth Council, the Lower Cape Fear Deanery, and in her local church through acolyting, lay reading, planning Vacation Bible School, and participating in the EYC.

Poetry Winner

Jaysen Cook

E.A. Laney High School

10th grade

The Azalea Festival

The sweet smells waft through the streets,

The music pounds, the sound and different beats,

Chatter can be heard from the crowd,

The sound of rejoicing loud and proud,

The flowers bright and beautiful,

The vendors and entertainment anything but dull,

The Festival brings those from afar,

To Wilmington, our shining star.

Jaysen’s family moved to Wilmington when he was 3, and they have gone to the Azalea Festival many years since. His favorite school subjects are the sciences and visual arts because he likes seeing the world from many different perspectives. When not in school, he draws and reads, mostly science fiction and adventure books. He participates on Laney’s SeaPerch robotics team.

Poetry Second Place

Brooke Sommer

E.A. Laney High School

10th grade


The flowers bloom so brightly

Like how the sun shines through

Many people come to see

The flowers and princesses, too.

The fuchsia color in the petals

Makes the hearts of people settle.

Many children dance full of glee

While each year is another jubilee.

The dresses worn so big and bright

To match the color of each flower in sight.

The Festival brings many people together

As a family that gathers.

The Festival is joyous and radiant

Only happens once each year.

Yet, the Festival only happens here.

Here is, Home.

Brooke enjoys the sciences and is thinking of studying dermatology in college. She plays on the Laney women’s basketball team as well as on a local AAU team. Her after-school activities include the STEM Club, Key Club and Spirit Club. When not in school, she enjoys going to the beach, shopping, and hanging out with her friends. Fun fact: Brooke was an extra in an episode of Secrets and Lies when it was filmed in Wilmington.

Poetry Honorable mention

Ava Rollins

E.A. Laney High School

9th grade

Azalea Festival

Snow is melting, spring is near

Which means the Azalea Festival is almost here.

Ask your friends if they will go,

They say “Of course, don’t miss the show.”

The Festival brings Wilmington to life

And brings unity throughout the nights

People love when the Azalea Festival is here

But eventually we have to say, “See ya next year!”

Ava has only been to the Azalea Festival once but definitely feels its presence in the community every spring. She plays travel volleyball and beach volleyball outside of school. In her spare time, she enjoys watching movies.

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