McGarry reflects on time spent as U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen

Maddy McGarry, left, standing next to Japan's Prime Minister Kishida and Japan's Cherry Blossom Queen.
Maddy McGarry, left, is pictured with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Japan's 2023 Cherry Blossom Queen. McGarry traveled to Japan in June as part of her duties as the U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen, visiting many places and interacting with various Japanese officials.

By Whitney Baxter

With the spin of a wheel, Maddy McGarry became the 2023 U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen.

McGarry (’20 agricultural and life sciences education, international agriculture), of Jewell, Iowa, was bestowed her title at the end of a week-long experience earlier this year in Washington, D.C., as part of her participation in the National Cherry Blossom Princess Program.

The program celebrates the friendship between the United States and Japan and offers participants opportunities to interact with government, business and media leaders, as well as tour various cultural and educational centers in Washington, D.C.

Maddy McGarry plants a young dogwood tree with Japanese officials. Each are holding a golden shovel.
While in Japan, Maddy McGarry had the honor of helping plant a dogwood tree. The new dogwood tree is symbolic of the United States' gifting of such a tree to Japan, in response to Japan's gift to the U.S. of a cherry blossom tree more than a century ago.

McGarry attended the event, representing the state of Iowa as its Cherry Blossom Princess. She explained that applicants are selected based on their academic achievement, leadership qualities, community involvement and interest in world affairs. In her application, McGarry included experiences as a student at Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. While pursuing her degree, she participated in seven internships and two study abroad programs, gaining a better understanding of agriculture systems worldwide.

She enjoyed meeting and interacting with the other Cherry Blossom Princesses representing the 50 states and other U.S. territories.

“The week was very rewarding, and I formed many friendships with the other women,” McGarry said. “I felt very fulfilled and didn’t expect much more from it.”

Because the program is not considered a pageant, each year’s Cherry Blossom Queen is selected via the spin of a wheel that has slots for each participating state and territory rather than by a panel of judges. When the spinning wheel stopped on Iowa, McGarry was pleasantly surprised and said it was a great honor to become the 2023 U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen. The last time an Iowan was named the queen was in 1964 when Ann E. Fitzpatrick earned the title.

As part of her royal duties, McGarry traveled to Japan in June – the first time in four years that the Cherry Blossom Queen has made the trip due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During her tour of Japan, she met with the prime minister and the governor of Tokyo. She watched pearl divers extract pearls from oysters and enjoyed a traditional Japanese meal of mollusks, squid, mackerel fish and snails.

She also visited where the first cherry blossom tree was harvested and brought to the United States by Japanese officials more than a century ago. Learning about the work that went into ensuring the trees gifted to the U.S. did not harbor any diseases or pests reminded McGarry of the work done at Iowa State.

“I thought a lot about the work agronomists do at Iowa State, so it was nice to make that connection during the trip,” McGarry said.

While in Mie Prefecture, she visited a private high school and interacted with more than 900 students, telling them about her experience in the National Cherry Blossom Princess Program. The school’s orchestra performed both the U.S. and Japanese national anthems. McGarry said the performance was so beautiful and touching that it brought her to tears.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” she said.

Reflecting on her experience, McGarry is grateful for the opportunity to serve as an ambassador of the United States through the program. Next spring, she will return to Washington, D.C., to crown the 2024 queen.

“It really was an honor to be part of something so unique, has such a tradition behind it and has been going on for so long,” she said.