By GWEN SISSON
Maggie Harper said the event she is most looking forward to at the 2011 Cherry Blossom Festival is the Grand Ball and Sushi Reception.
“At this event we have to wear a white ball gown with elbow-length gloves and this is also when the National Cherry Blossom Queen is selected by ‘spinning of the wheel,’” Harper said. “If chosen as queen, you represent the National Conference of State Societies at various events throughout the year, and (the queen) is also invited to visit Japan to meet with the Japanese Prime Minister and the speaker of the Japanese legislature. It will by far be the most exciting night!”
The Mississippi State University freshman will represent the state of Mississippi in the 2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, held annually in Washington D.C. She is the daughter of U.S. Rep. Gregg and Sidney Harper of Pearl.
“Maggie is an intelligent young lady who has already proven herself as an accomplished leader at Mississippi State,” said Kelly Mixon, president of the Mississippi State Society. “Maggie’s character, combined with her southern hospitality and charm, will be exemplified through her participation as princess for the Magnolia State.”
The Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates a special gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the city of Washington D.C. from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo, Japan, in 1912. These tree can be seen today at the Tidal Basin area. In 1935, a Washington D.C.-area civic club began the Cherry Blossom Festival.
According to organizers, the festival has become a “rite of spring” in Washington D.C., with “more than a million people visiting each year to admire the blossoming cherry trees and attend events that herald the beginning of spring in the nation’s capital.”
“It’s an honor to represent Mississippi in this historic national event,” Harper said. “It has become even more special to me because of the recent tragedy in Japan from the earthquake and tsunami.”
Serving as the Mississippi “princess” at the event, Harper will arrive in Washington D.C. this Saturday and participate in a variety of events throughout the week, including a Princess tea with girls from around the nation. She will attend the annual lantern lighting ceremony at the Tidal Basin, have lunch at Mount Vernon, and attend a reception with members of Congress. Another unique event to the festival will be attending the Japan Embassy reception, at the residence of the Ambassador of Japan.
“It will be an educational experience where I will be able to learn about leadership opportunities for women,” Harper said. “In the past, the princesses have met with such dignitaries as First Lady Laura Bush and then-Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.”
Harper was selected by the Mississippi State Society to the National Conference. Every state is a member of the National Conference of State Societies, which is made up of people from each state who live or work in Washington, D.C. After her nomination, Mississippi’s society voted and approved Harper in a unanimous vote of all members.
The Grand Ball and Sushi Reception, held April 8, is the highlight of the week. The historic black-tie affair begins with a traditional sushi reception and silent auction, followed by an elegant dinner and entertainment.
It is at this event, the Cherry Blossom Queen is selected by the turn of a wheel. Each state and 10 U.S. territories are listed on a “Wheel of Fortune” -type of wheel. In an official ceremony, the wheel is spun and whatever state or territory the wheel designates is the new Cherry Blossom Festival Queen.
As dessert is served, the 2011 Cherry Blossom Queen and the International Princesses are introduced, along with each U.S. State and Territorial Princesses.
Harper said her dress for the Grand Ball is her favorite outfit of the week.
“It is completely beaded at the top and has layers upon layers of tulle at the bottom,” Harper said. “It’s beautiful and I can’t wait to wear it. It is the dress that I will wear at the Grand Ball where the queen is selected. I will be escorted by my dad, which will make the night even more special and memorable.”
“We know that Maggie will represent Mississippi (and Mississippi State University) well as the Cherry Blossom Princess for our state,” said Rep. Gregg Harper, Maggie’s dad. “I can’t think of anything more special to me as a dad than getting to escort her to the Grand Ball next week.”
“Maggie is a wonderful young lady who loves Mississippi and we’re so proud of her for being selected to represent our state,” said Sidney Harper, Maggie’s mom. “She has always strived to do her very best. Maggie was a page for the U.S. Senate two summers ago and is determined to live in Washington D.C. one day.”
Harper is a freshman at MSU, majoring in political science with a plan of going to law school. She is a member of Delta Gamma, MSU choir, Mississippi Model Security Council, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, and a member of the Student Association’s Disabled Student Affairs Committee. She is also working on a committee that will bring governor and lieutenant governor candidates to a forum on the MSU campus on April 6.