Did you know that New Jersey has a Cherry Blossom Princess?
The Cherry Blossom Princess Program is an educational, cultural and educational program that offers professional development that offers a week-long host of activities for young women leaders age 19-24 from across the United States and the world. This year, Byram’s Jolisse Gray, 21, was, after an extensive application process, chosen as New Jersey’s Princess.
Gray attended Sussex Vo-Tech High School where she pursued singing of all sorts and will soon graduate from her Baltimore institute of higher education.
The program was inaugurated in 1946 as a means of honoring the gift by Japan of cherry blossom trees to the United States — over a century ago - solidifying a diplomatic relationship and friendship between the two nations. In 1915, in gratitude for the gift of cherry trees, former President William Howard Taft sent a gift of dogwood trees to Japan.
“It was a long and very intense application process, and I was so honored to be selected,” the Notre Dame of Maryland University senior said. “I had to demonstrate my leadership and academic strengths and my passion for social, community and world affairs among other things.”
Young women leaders are chosen by State/Territorial Society or by international embassy to be Cherry Blossom Princesses. Once chosen, these young women represent their respective states, territories, and countries in both public and private events held each day across the Washington, DC area. It started on Sunday, April 3 and culminated with a parade on April 9.
“It was an amazing experience,” Gray said. “We interacted with top government officials as well as business, arts and media leaders throughout the week.”
Alumnae of the Cherry Blossom Princess Program include leaders in arenas including government, business, science, education, and the arts across the globe.
“The Cherry Blossom Queen is chosen by, believe it or not, the spinning of a wheel,” Gray said. “I wasn’t lucky enough to win that, but it’s an interesting concept.”
There’s a reason for the selection process, states the Cherry Blossom Program’s website.
“Each Princess has been selected by their State Society based on their achievements and all the US Princesses are qualified to represent the United States,” it reads. “Therefore, it is the tradition of the program that the US Queen is selected by the spinning of a wheel. The wheel is spun once for the Runner Up and a second time for the Queen.”
Gray’s ethnicity is Ukrainian and Puerto Rican and is very saddened by what is going on in the Ukraine
“A lot of people don’t realize that New Jersey has a Ukrainian hub,” Gray said. “I often visit my grandma in Paterson where there are many Ukrainian people.”
Gray learned of the Cherry Blossom Princess program as someone from her university represented Maryland four years ago.
“I go to school for international relations and am very interested in anything related to international diplomacy,” she said. “Japan is a really good ally regarding defense.”
Upon graduation, Gray plans to go into private sector defense or security. Her hobbies are singing and kayaking and she’s a huge fan New Jersey and local newspapers.
“I love New Jersey and anything Jersey,” she said. “I love Jersey thing like the whole Taylor ham versus pork roll and the fact that Jersey girls don’t pump their own gas and just everything Jersey,” she said. “My dad, John Gray, and I are also huge fans of getting the physical paper. There’s just something old school and great about reading a physical paper rather than seeing it online and I hope this one never goes away.”