It’s hard to believe — at least for me — but it’s been 10 years since I participated in the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Hawaii.
It seems like only yesterday I was learning ikebana, hitting a taiko drum for the first time, and standing in front of hundreds of onlookers at Ala Moana Center Stage answering an impromptu question I can’t even recall.
Since then, I’ve volunteered to help with the festival — and let me tell you, it’s a lot less stressful — and way more fulfilling — to be on this end.
On Saturday the festival crowned its new queen and court. But as this year’s contestant coordinator, the coronation part of the event wasn’t something I had been looking forward to. I spent about seven months with the 15 queen contestants, coordinating their schedules, setting up cultural classes, giving them pep talks, wiping stains off their appearances dresses, and dishing unsolicited advice about everything from restaurant recommendations to boyfriend deal-breakers.
It was truly a pleasure to watch these 15 young women — all between 21 and 26, career-focused, compassionate, intelligent, passionate, spirited and damn good taiko players — evolve over the course of the festival. The ones who didn’t know much about their Japanese heritage embraced their culture. Those who were terrified of public speaking were telling jokes on stage.
I don’t know if the contestants knew this, but in a lot of ways, the experience impacted me, too. I learned how to be more organized, to be patient, to be empathetic, to listen. And I learned that sometimes we have to be in uncomfortable, awkward situations — like standing on a stage at a nightclub, belting out the national anthem — to free ourselves from what people expect us to be and just be who we really are.
And that’s the greatest lesson of all.
Here are some scenes of the contestant experience leading up to Festival Ball, where a new queen and court are named — and 15 Japanese-American women walked away with something more important than the crown:
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the best kind of volunteering always ends up giving u back more than u gave. i felt ur sadness at this experience coming to an end. and it’s striking that the whole court, not just the cbf queen, looks thrilled.
Congrats to all the winners.
Great blog, Cat! Thanks for sharing!
i know it’s much more than a standard beauty pageant, but i bet you were so cute when you won. nothing to do now but put on your tiara and say ‘i’m ready for my close up, mr. de mille
seriously, you have maintained the highest standards of the office of CBQ all these years, both in your professional life and in your social demeanor. you are kama’aina. you have remained a citizen and a servant of Hawaii and it’s people, as a reporter and an educator.
now let’s talk about the City Council.
Me? Cute? Hardly. I was ME on with a crown 🙂
You have been such an inspiration and a fun-loving CBF momma! I’ve gained so much through participating in this festival. In these past 6 months, I’ve grown so much in self-confidence, public speaking, and through greater understanding of my cultural heritage. It’s truly about the journey filled with so many life-lessons and wonderful memories.