Passion on Parade
Cue the confetti. As a senior event manager with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, Mariela Spillari ’10 helps organize the famed Rose Parade — a New Year’s Day tradition featuring floral floats, equestrian groups and marching bands. The Guatemala-born alumna was raised in New York, inspired by the tenacity of her mother, a dual-language elementary teacher, and the optimism of her father, a multi-business owner; both hustled for more than 30 years to succeed in their U.S. careers. After graduation, she returned to organize events for Macy’s, including the iconic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. She also directed the 2019 LA Pride Parade.
Pasadena is such a tight-knit community; the parade has a hometown heart — but on a large scale of course. There is an incredible energy as people start coming in the week leading up to the parade and the Rose Bowl Game: fans of the teams that are playing, horse lovers who are there to see the equestrian units, marching bands from all over the world. It’s not just a parade, it’s an entire week of events.
For the Rose Parade, the bands are my favorite part of everything because the stories they come in with are really incredible. Some are from developing countries and they start fundraising a year and a half in advance to get here. This year, we helped support a float for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. There were 100 marchers in suffragette costumes — really impactful!
Penchant for Planning
I became passionate about planning events at Bentley, through the Campus Activities Board. All the late-night organizing for Spring Day was tiring, but I enjoyed getting really close to my classmates. I met Stephanie Logan [Class of 2005] who worked in Partnership Marketing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and someone said, “You would probably like what she does.” They were right! She became my first manager.
The Macy’s parade balloons are test-flown in South Dakota to see if all the details are accurate. It’s very private and closed to the media. One year, with a SpongeBob balloon, I turned to my boss and said, “I think his left pupil is a little off, and his tie doesn’t look right.” And he was like, “Sure, sure.” Then the designers walked in and said the exact same thing. I looked at my boss like, “I told you!” Those small moments helped build confidence in my career.
On parade day, we worked with the float captains to get all the float escorts into costume. We’d say, “Oh, this gentleman isn’t going to fit into the stick of butter, so he has to be a piece of toast.” It’s cool to be down by Macy’s, where the parade ends, but I always suggest people go uptown; the atmosphere there is just unparalleled.
From the Heart
With the Pride Parade, there’s more diversity among participants and I aim to stay educated on how I refer to or address everyone I interact with. It’s just an added layer that seldom applies to events with Macy’s or the Rose Parade! One of the volunteer managers once said, “At the very end of the day, you must be kind, because this could be the only day someone experiences kindness their whole year.” I still get emotional thinking about that.