When sophomore Kieran Conway visited Washington, D.C. two years ago she never expected to return for her next visit as “royalty.”
The International Studies and Dance double-major was recently informed of her selection as the Cherry Blossom Princess of Ohio for the International Cherry Blossom Festival taking place in the U.S. capital next spring.
“I get to wear a crown and sash and ride in a parade,” said Conway, “but it’s not a pageant in any shape or form.”
The Cherry Blossom Princess Education and Cultural Exchange Program serves as a week-long opportunity for women from the U.S. and around the world to strengthen community involvement, volunteerism and personal development. Those U.S. representatives are selected by panels from the National Conference of State Societies (NCSS) and are also sworn into the Pi Alpha Kappa Cherry Blossom Princess Sorority.
Conway discovered the opportunity while visiting a family friend in the area where she saw an advertisement for the month-long festival beginning in March and the education program that will take place April 6 through April 12.
“I didn’t think much about it at the time,” Conway stated. “I thought it was just a dream but a friend urged me to look into it. I contacted Ohio’s NCSS and interviewed and they said they were excited to have someone extend interest in the program.”
During Conway’s visit she will have the opportunity to visit embassies in the area as well as meet women currently holding office in the U.S. government. The Japanese Ambassador for the program will also be in attendance.
While she is involved in a variety of clubs and groups on campus such as Peer Mentors, Peer Helpers, Wittenberg Student Dance Company and the Newman Club, it was Conway’s trip to Lesotho that inspired her to declare her major and reach out beyond the Wittenberg community.
“My favorite part of the Lesotho trip was talking to people that live differently than ourselves, and how we were able to embrace all of our differences and grow from that. I’m excited to meet a lot of people, especially women from across our country and internationally as well.”
Involvement in the program requires women to serve their nation or state in cultural activities by giving presentations. Princesses will be introduced to many government, cultural, military, business leaders and female role models. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor are just a few of the role models that have participated in past years.
“It’s nice that they choose women and keep this as a woman-oriented program and offer this kind of opportunity when women often don’t have the chance to lead in the world,” said Conway.
More than 3,000 women between the ages of 19 and 24 have participated in the program since 1948 and each year the U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen is chosen by the spin of a wheel at the Grand Ball and Cherry Blossom Queen Coronation at the end of the week. The queen will be invited to visit Japan in May, but all princesses are invited to participate in the National Cherry Blossom Parade and Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival the following morning.
“I hope it’s as good as I’m anticipating. With programs like East Asian Studies and International Studies here, it will be neat to be able to tie that back to my Wittenberg experience,” said Conway.