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Network Is Looking for Lost Princesses

Calling all past Cherry Blossom Festival princesses: The Cherry Blossom Princess Network, formerly Pi Alpha Kappa Sorority, is being resuscitated in the Washington, D.C., area, and the Cherry Blossom Committee is in search of past princesses who have lost touch.

The committee is hosting a brunch for the former princesses on Sunday for them to network and reunite with old friends. Joan Neiman, the 2003 princess reunion chairwoman, said that many of the women who participate in the Cherry Blossom Princess program return to D.C. to work on the Hill or as lobbyists, public relations executives, fundraisers and in think tanks.

“I think the young women have a good experience here and are inspired by what they see,” Neiman said.

The princess program is sponsored by the National Conference of State Societies, and while each individual state society is responsible for selecting a young woman between the ages of 19 and 23 to represent its state. The princesses spend a week in D.C. learning about Japan, and one queen is chosen by random and is awarded a trip to Japan.

Many of the past princesses have been daughters of politicians or Hill staffers, another factor in the ex-princesses’ decisions to return to the capital city.

In 1995, the active princess alumni group fell apart when one chairwoman stepped down and nobody took her place, Neiman said.

Neiman took over the task of reviving the network in 2001 when she was the princess program chairwoman and the princesses in that class expressed interest in staying in touch after their weeklong stint in Washington ended.

The task proved to be more difficult than Neiman expected. When the last chairwoman stepped down, the records seemingly disappeared. It was not until earlier this year, when Gigi Galbreath contacted Neiman and said she had the list, that Neiman even thought her goal might be possible. Galbreath, it turns out, was the last chairwoman of the alumni group, but when she got married she took her husband’s last name and lost touch with the National Conference of State Societies, which is ultimately in charge of the group.

While only 40 of the approximately 3,000 past princesses plan to attend the brunch, Neiman said many others from outside the D.C. area have contacted her about returning to the city for this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival, scheduled for March 30-April 5. Past princesses in attendance will have the opportunity to attend the First Lady’s Luncheon on April 1.

Neiman said that her plan to shift the alumni group’s focus from a purely social organization to one more focused on networking appeals to the past princesses since many of them are young professionals.

“[Network chairwomen] will have to deal with a broad spectrum of needs,” said Galbreath, the former chairwoman. “But I think it’s a great idea to change the scope to fit what’s going on in past princesses’ lives today — a lot more of us are working.”

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