From Rank-and-File To Royalty
[IMGCAP(1)] Being a princess is not a dream most young women are able to make a reality, but for those lucky enough to be selected by their state society, the dream comes true when they are crowned Cherry Blossom princesses.
“I’ve never been a princess in anything before and never thought I would,” Missouri Princess Michelle Hawks said. “It will be nice to wear a sash and a crown.”
“We treat them like princesses because it is an honor for them to be chosen by their state,” Claudia Mitchell, 2003 princess chairwoman, said.
The princesses are not beauty contestants, and the National Conference of State Societies is careful to draw the distinction between such contests and the 55-year-old Cherry Blossom queen coronation.
“The queen is selected when the Japanese ambassador spins the wheel of fortune,” Mitchell said. “Beauty has nothing to do with it. It’s completely random.”
Don’t tell Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) that. He is positive Chelsea Swett, the California Cherry Blossom princess, was chosen because of her “terrific beauty.”
He also sings the praises of the 20-year-old Stanford University senior’s scholastic, athletic and musical talents. But, he readily admits, “I am totally nonobjective in this matter,” which is not surprising, given the princess is also his granddaughter.
Cherry Blossom princesses are chosen on an individual basis by each of their state societies. Each society has its own application process and set of criteria it is looking for in a representative, but Cherry Blossom princesses must be between the ages of 19 and 23.
Congressional daughters and granddaughters are frequently selected as princesses because of their families’ name recognition. The Alaska princess is Lily Stevens, the daughter of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Lily Stevens said she applied to be a princess because of the fabulous experiences of former Alaska princesses.
It was Lantos’ wife, Annette, who conspired with staffers in Lantos’ office and the California State Society to get Swett selected as a princess.
“It was mostly my grandmother, but my grandfather claims to have had a heavy hand in it now that it’s over,” Swett said. “They are both very proud of themselves.”
The Congressman should be proud considering the princess selected him as her escort to the Grand Ball, which will be held Friday.
“It was really sweet,” Swett said. “He wanted to give me the option of having some tall, dashing military escort accompany me, but for me, he was definitely my first choice.”
Lantos, ever the doting grandfather, is planning to attend as many of the week’s festivities in support of Swett as his Congressional schedule will allow.
“I will be there for her from A to Z, from Z to A,” Lantos said. “I will carry her purse, books, tennis shoes, whatever she may need that week.”
Many of the Cherry Blossom princesses selected each year are Hill staffers, because of the close relationship between the state societies and Congressional offices. This year seven women were selected from the ranks of the Hill.
Hawks, 22, who works for Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), was asked last year to represent Missouri as a princess but declined.
“Mr. Blunt’s district office asked me last year and I turned it down because I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do or had the time for,” Hawks said. “This year I called them and begged them to let me do it.”
Hawks, like many young women, was drawn to the event because of the variety of social, cultural and educational opportunities afforded to the princesses during the week.
However, it’s not all a life of leisure for the princesses. They are required to follow a few rules, including adherence to a strict dress code, which prohibits the wearing of drab colors such as black, navy, gray and brown and encourages wearing spring pastels. Princesses are also strongly encouraged to have at least one pink suit. Pants are virtually a no-no for the weeklong festivities.
“It is a springtime event, and we want the girls to reflect that,” Mitchell said. [IMGCAP(2)]
“I went out and bought some pink and blue,” said Jamie Lawley, a staffer in Rep. Jeff Miller’s (R-Fla.) office. “I now have a whole collection.”
Other princesses like Hawks opt to borrow their friends’ pastel pieces to create their Cherry Blossom princess ensembles.
Overall, the theme of the week is to immerse the young women in Japanese cultural while seeing the capital city’s sites and rubbing elbows with famous Washingtonians. The princesses are scheduled to meet with Members of Congress; visit D.C. City Hall; attend a reception at the embassy of Japan; tour national and local sites such as the White House, Pentagon and Tidal Basin; and attend the traditional lunch with first lady Laura Bush.
According to Oregon Cherry Blossom Princess Libby Schaub, staff assistant to Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), the schedule of a princess is quite rigorous.
“Our week is totally packed with formal and informal events from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day,” Schaub said. “We will do a lot of meeting and greeting.”
This year the princesses will also go to the United Service Organization at Fort Mead and assemble support packages for troops in Iraq.
“This was something we had scheduled early on, because a number of our troops were overseas before the war,” Mitchell said. “But now that we are at war, our involvement in this project is even more important.”
2002 Cherry Blossom Queen Liz O’Connor will end her reign on Friday with the announcement of the new 2003 queen. O’Connor was a staff assistant for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
“I don’t think one could go on forever being the Cherry Blossom queen,” O’Connor said, “but it’s bittersweet. I’m very excited for the next girl, because it was so great for me.”
Other Hill staffers who are Cherry Blossom princesses are: Arizona Princess Sunita Krishna of the office of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.); Kansas Princess Molly Mueller of the office of Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.); Wyoming Princess Trish Fritz of the office of Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.); and Montana Princess Jane Visser of the office of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).