Hello, my name is Carly Thomas! I am 17 years old, a senior at Highland High School, and a lover of all things Highland. Devoted readers of this blog just might remember me from some of my previous posts!
On February 26th, I was crowned the 2022 Highland County Maple Queen, an honor I had always dreamed of earning. I am so excited to represent Highland County and share all about what it has to offer. I will work diligently to be a true ambassador for our county, representing it in the most positive light.
From a very young age, I have always dreamed of becoming the Maple Queen, much like so many other little Highland County girls. I remember sitting in the front row at the Maple Queen pageant with my late grandmother, Sandy, when I was about five years old.
At this time, I was Little Miss Highland. That meant I had the honor of giving the Maple Queen contestants their pageant presents since it is tradition for the Little Miss and Master Highland to hand out the contestants’ gifts from the Chamber of Commerce.
Looking up at my grandmother with wide, excited eyes as they announced the winner, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “One day you’ll be out there getting that crown!” These words of encouragement made a huge impact on me, even at a young age. However, I never knew just how much I would miss her tokens of wisdom, seasoned with age and country class.
My grandmother Sandy passed on February 25, 2018, leaving a wide, gaping hole in our family unit. Those prophetic words from one of the most influential people in my life have carried me through the last few years as I have worked to earn this special title.
In 2019, I competed in the Maple Queen Pageant for the first time. I was absolutely thrilled to be crowned a second-runner-up Maple Princess. At 14 years old, I suddenly found myself thrust into the spotlight in a way I had never experienced before.
I was interviewed by numerous news outlets and even spoke with the Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and the Governor of Virginia. Needless to say, this forced me way outside of my comfort zone, making me adapt very quickly. Thankfully, I have never had an issue speaking with people, proving that I am, in fact, Bill Bratton’s granddaughter!
I defined this Maple Princess year as my “fake it ‘til you make it” year. By this I mean I tried my hardest to fit in with the other girls, both of which had served on the court and were much older than me. However, this experience showed me I was capable of so much more than what I had limited myself to.
That same year, I started working for The Recorder as a sports writer. I am so thankful for this experience because it gave me a better understanding of the power of words and how to use them correctly. My time at The Recorder planted a seed for my love for communications; however, my following year on the Maple Queen court would teach me another very important life lesson.
Have you ever had someone else, especially someone you love, achieve what you wanted for yourself? In 2020, I was crowned second runner up for a second time. This was an extremely challenging year for me. I felt as though I had made no progress from the year before, despite my previous year on the court and personal growth achievements. Don’t get me wrong! I was absolutely honored to serve on the court, but this year proved to be a humbling one for me. And I’m grateful for it.
I had to serve our new Maple Queen. She was my best friend, who I had convinced to participate in the pageant in the first place. My immediate feeling of overwhelming joy for her soon faded into questions, such as “Why am I never good enough?” This year God dealt with my pride. He showed me how to humbly serve and not seek to be served. This was a pivotal moment in my life as I learned how to manage my emotions and react with mature behavior.
We all, of course, know what happens next: COVID. That big, bad wolf came and knocked the wind out of all our sails, including those of us on the court. Just as we were preparing to take our places for the festival, the world shut down. Even through this adversity, we decided to still visit the sugar camps that were open. It was so nice to actually have time to truly visit with our sugar producers without them being overwhelmed and bogged down with other visitors.
Nevertheless, like everyone else, I still suddenly found myself at home 24/7. I am a doer, so being idle just doesn’t sit well with me. Thankfully, I live on my family’s farm, of which I am the seventh generation, meaning there was still work to be done.
For the first time in my life, I was able to work on our farm everyday, free from school responsibilities or other obligations. Through this, I delved deeper into our farm, agriculture, and my roots. I learned more about who and where I came from. I also gained a better appreciation of how much my ancestors fought to keep the farm in our family. They could have easily sold out, especially when times were tough, but they didn’t. Instead they found other creative avenues to help sustain the family farm. For the first time, I was also able to truly appreciate our county. While people in other parts of the world were dealing with the stress of COVID, our little slice of heaven mostly stayed the same.
Writing this now, I am reminded of how faithful Jesus has been to me. Throughout this time, I continued to see God’s grace and mercy all over my life. I now know that His plan always prevails. I trust that I was passed over as Maple Queen in 2020 because God knew what was coming. He knew I would not have been strong enough to handle the heartbreak of being Maple Queen and not being able to perform my duties.
The Maple Festival is one of my favorite times of the year. Our little town is transformed into a hub of activity and provides locals the opportunity to meet people from all over the world for just two weekends every year. I love being able to chat with visitors and hear their stories as well as sharing how unique, special, and amazing Highland County truly is. Losing that, especially as Queen, would have broken my heart. Instead I learned to serve our 2020 Maple Queen, who remained steadfast through her unique two-year reign. Through this challenge I learned how to slow down, appreciate the little things, love deeper, and become stronger. Ultimately, I have learned to trust that the God that created the moon and the stars knows what he is doing, even in my own, little life.
Throughout the pandemic, I hope we all learned to appreciate one another and the people who make a difference. Not only just the folks who make the Maple Festival happen, but those who impact us in our everyday lives. These people have shaped who we are, so it is time for us to thank them for the difference, both seen and unseen, they have made on the world.
There are an endless number of people I would like to thank starting with my wonderful parents, Jed and Shelley Thomas. Thank you for always encouraging me to chase my dreams, lifting me up when I feel down, and correcting me when necessary. Thank you for leading me and our family through this life with grace, honesty, and love. Thank you for making sure I developed a strong faith in God and in people.
To my friends, thank you so much for always being there as a shoulder to cry on, people to rejoice with, and true friends to walk through life with. Thank you for always believing in me and cheering me on.
To my mentors, thank you for taking a chance on me. Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Thank you for teaching me how to lift people up, encourage them, and show them (and me) how to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
To the people, past and present, who work to continue the Maple Festival and the Maple Queen Pageant; thank you. Thank you for believing in this county and the young women who live in it. Thank you for promoting our special place and fighting to continue it. I hope my work this year will make you proud.
To my adventurous ancestors who traveled to this land in 1758, thank you for stepping out in faith. Thank you for fighting for something so much bigger than yourself. And most importantly, thank you for paving the way for me. I won’t let you down.
To Jesus: thank you for your salvation and grace. I will never be worthy of your love, but I praise you for your faithfulness. Thank you for this life you have given me; never let me take it for granted.
Finally to my sweet community: thank you. Thank you for being you – encouraging to young people, kind to strangers, full of heartfelt love, and welcoming to all. No matter where I may go or what I may do, I will always be a Highland girl. I thank you for showing what true community feels like and the imprint you have laid upon my heart.
Highland County: I am so blessed, humbled, honored, and so very, very grateful to represent you this year.
All my love,
Your 2022 Highland County Maple Queen
About the Author
Carly Thomas, a 2022 graduate of Highland High School, resides in the southern portion of Highland County. Growing up as the seventh generation to live on her family’s cattle ranch, Carly learned the importance of family, faith, and devotion to the land. She is passionate about FFA, agriculture, and supporting Highland County farmers. Carly enjoys being challenged and works in a variety of jobs from writing sports articles for her local newspaper to cooking at a local sandwich shop. She can often be found working on the ranch, riding horses with her father, or working on the next FFA activity.