After the pandemic, many of us feel a lingering sense of isolation.
Liv Swenson sure did.
“I was done with school — I graduated during the pandemic — and I work a hybrid job,” Swenson said. “I was craving social interaction.”
So she decided to run for Queen of the Snows.
She’s not feeling isolated anymore.
The 23-year-old from Eagan was crowned Aurora, Queen of the Snows of the 2023 St. Paul Winter Carnival on Friday.
“I crumpled to the floor, I was just so excited,” Swenson said during an interview on Saturday. “It was a moment of so much adrenaline and joy and shock.”
Winter Carnival roots
Her joy wasn’t only from chasing away the pandemic’s isolation.
“This has been a dream of mine since I knew what Carnival was,” she says. “I have been around the Winter Carnival my whole life.”
Her grandparents, Dan and Carol Swenson, were active with the royal family for many years.
“My grandpa was a guard and a captain of the guard,” Swenson said. “And together, my grandparents were coordinators for the royal family. So I’ve always been around it.”
In fact, some of her earliest memories are associated with coronation.
“I remember going to my grandparents’ house and seeing my grandma spread the seating charts spread around the dining room table,” she says.
She was also part of coronation night itself, along with her sister.
“I remember sitting backstage and also riding a tricycle during a skit between crownings,” Swenson says.
There’s another, glittering memory from the coronation pomp and circumstance that led her to where she is now.
“I remember seeing the former queens all lining up,” she says. “I thought, ‘One day, I want to do that. That’s going to be me.’”
Our future former queen grew up in Inver Grove Heights and graduated in 2017 from the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, where she studied dance (modern and ballet).
“I’ve been dancing since I was three years old,” she says.
She kept dancing at St. Olaf College, majoring in both social studies education and dance, with minors in educational studies and race and ethnic studies. A 2022 graduate, Swenson recently began working as an associated project manager for the University of Minnesota Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the university.
(Fortunately, the folks at the foundation were aware she might suddenly need 10 days off.)
The next year will be a busy one for the whole royal family; beyond the Winter Carnival itself, there will be travel, parades and various appearances as boosters of our city and its festival, with plenty of philanthropic efforts as well. Together with the Vulcans, the royals also act out the push and pull of winter and spring (with an emphasis on the fun of winter).
Swenson, who is sponsored by White Bear Country Inn & Rudy’s Red Eye Grill, sees herself as part of a team, an effort that is larger than any one role or person.
“To be something larger than myself, of something that has been going on for 137 years, is very special,” she says.
Swenson is special as well, says Jennifer Battan, chair of the Queen of the Snows Candidate Committee.
“Liv has such a joyous and fun loving spirit,” Battan said in an email. “She gets down eye to eye with kids to talk, or play games, as on our bus tour sharing the legend. She is also thoughtful, articulate and well spoken. Liv is truly the full queen package.”
Cakes, Crowns and Carol
While Swenson worked her way out of isolation by running for queen, she also recently rediscovered her love of baking — she enjoys creating and donating cakes to “For Goodness Cakes,” a nonprofit that provides special cakes to help underserved youth and young adults celebrate their birthdays and other special occasions.
For fun, the college graduate has rediscovered her love of reading for enjoyment — she’s currently building a personal library (she says that means she needs to have at least 1,000 books).
The bookworm already has a collection of crowns: In Inver Grove Heights, she served as junior royalty in 2013 and princess in 2016.
This coronation, though, was bittersweet.
From the stage on Friday night, Swenson saw her grandpa, sitting near the front row, smiling and “so excited,” she says; her parents and her fiance, Zach Granowski, were also there. But one face was missing: her grandma, Carol, died in 2019 at the age of 73.
“She was there for me last night, though,” the queen said on Saturday, fighting back tears. “I’ve never felt closer to her.”