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Senior Monika Keller won Miss Con­ge­niality during the National Cherry Blossom Fes­tival in Wash­ington, D.C. Monika Keller | Courtesy

Princesses don’t always have it easy, as par­tic­i­pants of the Cherry Blossom Princess Program, held last week during the National Cherry Blossom Fes­tival in Wash­ington, D.C., found out. Long days full of meetings with foreign dig­ni­taries, recep­tions, a grand ball, and reading to kinder­garteners was exhausting — but well worth it, senior Monika Keller said.

Spon­sored by the National Con­ference of State Soci­eties, the Cherry Blossom Princess Program is an annual cul­tural and pro­fes­sional devel­opment program for 19-to-24-year-old women, according to the program’s website. Young women can apply to rep­resent their states or ter­ri­tories in the program, and if chosen as princesses, they par­tic­ipate in the week-long event in Wash­ington, D.C.

“It was such an awesome week,” said Keller, who rep­re­sented Wash­ington, her home state, in the program. “It def­i­nitely is a crazy week, and you have to learn to be flexible and under­standing, but it’s a great mix of events and oppor­tu­nities.”

At the grand ball on Friday, Keller was named Miss Con­ge­niality and pre­sented with a sash and flowers, she said. Before the ball, the princesses had voted on who should receive the title. Keller said she was humbled and sur­prised to receive the award.

Senior Mariah Hardy, who’s Keller’s little sister in the Chi Omega sorority, said she wasn’t sur­prised.

“Monika is a natural leader,” Hardy said in an email. “She acts with integrity and treats others with respect. Monika is giving and inclusive and will go out of her way to make someone feel like they are part of the team.”

Keller, who is interning for the Senate Finance Com­mittee for the Wash­ington-Hillsdale Internship Program this semester, said she found out about the program when she came to Wash­ington, D.C. and decided to apply. Part of her interest, she said, came from her Japanese roots: Her mother is from Tokyo, and Japanese tra­di­tions have played a role in her upbringing.

“I’ve always had an interest in Japanese culture and in Japanese-American rela­tions,” Keller said, noting that every summer, her family would attend a Japanese fes­tival in Seattle, which has a large Japanese com­munity.

The cherry blossom trees in Wash­ington, D.C. were a gift from Japan, and the program cel­e­brates the rela­tionship between the two coun­tries, Keller said.

This year, 41 princesses par­tic­i­pated in the program, Keller said, along with three inter­na­tional princesses from Japan, Russia, and the Philip­pines. Although the women are called princesses, the event is more like an ambas­sador program than a pageant, Keller noted.

“We’re all rep­re­senting our states and ter­ri­tories and par­tic­i­pating in rela­tional events,” she said.

Each day was packed from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Events included a reception at the Japanese ambassador’s res­i­dence, an evening at the Russian Cul­tural Center, a visit to a sus­tainable food and agri­culture farm at Woodlawn Plan­tation, and a behind-the-scenes tour of the John F. Kennedy Center of the Per­forming Arts.

On Friday night, the princesses attended the grand ball — fea­turing sushi chefs flown in from Japan — and on Sat­urday, they rode in floats at the National Cherry Blossom Parade.

Keller said she would rec­ommend that other Hillsdale women apply for the program.

“I highly, highly encourage it,” she said. “It is such a blast and def­i­nitely mem­o­rable. You learn a lot, too.”