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Modern-day debutantes

Real-world gems, the Silver Rose Debs get a bit of polish.

Posted: March 27, 2008 1:47 a.m.
Updated: May 28, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Kimberly Hedman (hugging, left) and Nicole Bergantino (hugging, right), best friends since fourth grade, are Henry Mayo Silver Rose Guild Debutantes. The debutante program, now in its 23rd year, has 14 local high school seniors in its 2007-08 class.

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Best friends since the fourth grade, Nicole Bergantino and Kimberly Hedman finish each other's sentences and laugh in tandem when they notice they're wearing the same sandals (Bergantino's toenails are black, while Hedman's sport a spunky red). Like most teens, the Hart High seniors love Starbucks, the mall and music.

Bergantino, 19, works as a nanny three times a week. After giving up volleyball and her allowance last year, she uses her paycheck to help pay for her car and gas, as well as saving for a spring break trip.

Hedman, 18, who's been ferociously studying math and preparing college applications for the last six months, just picked up a part-time job at Bucca di Beppo. Her paycheck will also go toward automotive expenses and an admitted "Starbucks obsession."

Both girls anxiously await acceptance at rival colleges, with the intent to pursue common majors of business or communications. Much of their free time, or what they have left of it, is spent giving back to the community.

Bergantino has been volunteering with her mother, Nancy, twice a month since she was 10. "I always get a happy little high after volunteering," she said.

"It makes me feel better about myself," Hedman piped in.

"It's the best feeling," Bergantino concurred.

Typical kids

It's not your typical portrait of debutante life - at least not the image that the title evokes for many, of a frivolous, outdated nod to Southern gentility.

Yet Bergantino and Hedman, as well as 12 other local high school girls, characterize the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Silver Rose Guild Debutante - one who will participate in presentation teas, etiquette classes and wear a white formal at the grand finale of the season, Saturday's Debutante Ball at the Universal Sheraton.

"I think the perception of yesterday's debs is a very pretentious, proper, high-society type. Today's debs are typical kids, with a wide range of GPAs and extracurricular activities," said Henry Mayo Silver Rose Guild President Virginia Hart. "There's no stereotype. We have everyone from athletes and cheerleaders to musicians and just natural kids."

Started in 1986, the Silver Rose Debutantes require a 2.5 or higher GPA, a time commitment of five hours per month to attend meetings and classes on etiquette and event planning, as well as 50 hours of community service over the course of the season and attendance at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital fundraisers. The $1,500 registration fee covers the program cost, with the remainder benefiting laboratory services at Henry Mayo.

"We hope our debs take away with them an enhanced view of the world, etiquette and why it's important, as well as a good sense of community," Hart said.

So far, that's exactly what Bergantino feels has been instilled in her as a result of the program. "A lot of the events we go to, we're the only young adults there. My people skills have definitely improved. I'm not afraid to introduce myself or talk to adults, even if it's the mayor," she said.

According to Hedman, being a debutante has opened her eyes in more ways than one.

"There was a whole world out there we didn't realize, of adults that work really hard to keep this community nice. I always took that for granted before," Hedman said. "It feels good to work on behalf of our community hospital. If I'm helping them, that means I'm helping people who need care when they're sick or injured."

When asked about their favorite debutante event to date, the teens' answer doesn't come as much of a surprise. Both pick the guild's annual fashion show and luncheon, which featured an "Under the Big Top" circus theme. All 14 debutantes modeled formal wear from Margo's of Valencia at the November 11 show, escorted by their fathers or "chevaliers" from the community.

"What girl wouldn't want to walk down a runway?" Hedman asked with a big smile.

"It was the best day, an experience a lot of people never get to do," Bergantino said.

Another special day was the annual Mother-Daughter Tea held on February 24, where mothers were honored with individual tributes.

Hedman's mother, Toni, was visibly touched, dabbing at her eyes throughout the ceremony.

Big changes

Toni Hedman has noticed big changes in her daughter since beginning the debutante program. "I have watched Kimberly turn from a beautiful little girl into a beautiful young lady. I contribute a lot of it to the debutante program. The maturity growth in one year has just been incredible," she said.

At the upcoming ball, debutante fathers will have their turn at being honored. The last few weeks of Silver Rose meetings have included waltz lessons, which father and daughter will perform together. White dresses and matching gloves have been selected for the girls, tuxedoes and white ties for the fathers.

Outward appearances can be deceptive, however, as Bergantino pointed out. "People think, 'Oh, how cute, it's a big ball'," she said. "They don't know about the responsibilities and commitment it takes to be a debutante.

"It's definitely about growing for yourself and becoming a woman." For Hedman, the event will mark a defining moment. "It's going to be bittersweet, because after that's over, the program will be coming to an end," Hedman said. "To me, 'coming out' means graduating, moving away and opening a whole new chapter in my life."

She and Bergantino will be following in stellar footsteps, if the past is any indication.

"We've had debutante reunions and the women that attended were just amazing," said Terrie Cipriano of the Henry Mayo Health Foundation.

"These are women that have lived all over the world and entered into some incredible professions."

Get involved

For more information about the Henry Mayo Guild Silver Rose Debutante Program, contact the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation at (661) 253-8082.

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