SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — A lucky spin of the wheel last April 8 turned Allison Speaker of Shepherdstown into the queen of the 2011 National Cherry Blossom Festival — a title she gives up April 13 when a new spin picks her successor.
Speaker, 23, daughter of Homer Speaker of Shepherdstown and Leota Trainer of Hagerstown, graduated from Jefferson High School and Shepherd University. She is a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C.
The nonprofit social and civic National Conference of State Societies has as its members residents of states and the five U.S. territories who work in the Washington, D.C., area. Since 1948, the organization has selected women, college students and young professionals between the ages of 18 and 25, as cherry blossom princesses.
The princesses come for a weeklong stay in Washington that culminates with the Cherry Blossom Festival’s Grand Ball.
Each year’s queen is chosen by a random spin on a ceremonial wheel of fortune by a high-ranking Japanese official. The wheel, which has the names of the participating states, territories and foreign embassies, will be spun by the mayor of Tokyo on April 13, Speaker said.
“Last year the wheel landed on West Virginia, so I became the first to represent the state as queen of the National Cherry Blossom Festival,” Speaker said.
Speaker was nominated as a cherry blossom princess last year by staffers from West Virginia who work in the office of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Speaker was an intern in there at the time.
Being queen has its perks.
In November, Speaker went on an eight-day tour of Japan, which included stops in Tokyo, Nikko, Sandai and areas struck by last year's tsunami, she said.
One of her gifts was a strand of mikimoto pearls, she said.
The state societies conference makes it possible for expatriates from the states who work in the Washington, D.C., area to meet and socialize. The societies also take on charitable causes.
”It’s like a homecoming place,” Speaker said.
According to the state societies’ website, more than 3,000 young women have participated in its National Cherry Blossom Princess Educational and Cultural Exchange Program since its inception. Among them were daughters of presidents and members of Congress.
Former West Virginia cherry blossom princesses include U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Natalie Tennant, West Virginia’s secretary of state, Speaker said.