Headshot of Alaska’s 2023 Cherry Blossom Princess Samantha Wanner. Photo courtesy of Samantha Wanner

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, has selected Samantha Wanner to serve as the 2023 Cherry Blossom Princess to represent the state.

Wanner grew up in Chugiak where she graduated from Chugiak High School in 2017, and is studying health science at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). The newly selected princess, who is the current Miss Chugiak Volunteer and has competed in pageants since age 16, said that the Cherry Blossom Princess Program is much more about community engagement and volunteerism and less about pageantry. For example, Wanner said, during their time in Washington, D.C., princesses will be passing out books to low-income schools in the area.

“They want to see girls who are engaged in their communities, and just want to make a difference and a positive impact where they live,” Wanner said about the princess selection process.

The 2023 National Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 20 to April 16, and the Cherry Blossom Princess Program is a week-long cultural and educational program that starts April 9 in conjunction with the festival.

In the announcement of her selection, it was highlighted that she has made UAA’s Dean’s List, been an Alaska Area Health Education Scholar, a women’s Power League of Alaska Mentee, presented a published paper at the Alaska Public Health Conference, and worked as a program facilitator with Premera to deliver baby boxes to expectant mothers in rural Alaska.

Wanner will be celebrated in Washington, D.C. on April 13 at a Cherry Blossom Princess Reception hosted by the Alaska State Society. Working with the state’s Congressional Delegation, the Alaska State Society nominates and supports the princess.


“I’m proud to select Samantha as Alaska’s Cherry Blossom Princess for 2023,” Peltola said in her statement on the selection. “Samantha exemplifies the traits of the Cherry Blossom Princess Educational and Cultural Exchange program, including academic excellence, a deep interest in civic affairs, and a proven commitment to community-minded service. The Cherry Blossom program has welcomed many incredible Alaskans to its ranks over the years, including our own Senator Lisa Murkowski, and I am confident that Samantha will be a strong addition to this community.”

Princesses must reside in the state they are to represent, and be aged 19-24. Selection criteria is based on academic achievement, social and interpersonal communication skills, leadership, interest in civic affairs, and service through community service.

This year Wanner had the opportunity to volunteer with the Volunteer Tax and Loan Program (VTLP) through the Alaska Business Development Center, Inc., doing free tax clinics in rural Alaska and conducting financial literacy discussions. She described it as “one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, and it was such an amazing opportunity to provide back to the community.”

She was also an Alaska Area Health Education Center Scholar — volunteering at a remote hospital shadowing a doctor while learning about what physical therapy and orthopedic medicine means in rural Alaska.

It was on one of these trips to rural Alaska this spring that she found out she had been selected for the program. Wanner said that she hadn’t showered in a week and had limited service when she saw an email come in congratulating her. She said she had to go to the community center to use a computer with more reliable internet access to find out she was chosen.

Wanner said she originally learned about the program while she was interning for Cherry Blossom Princess-alumna U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in Washington, D.C. in 2017. While she knew she wanted to apply, the timing didn’t seem right until this year.

The program has an international component as well, as it includes a ceremonial diplomatic partnership with Japan. Historically the Japanese Ambassador, currently Koji Tomita, has invited the princesses to participate in cultural events during the Cherry Blossom festival including the lantern lighting ceremony and Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival, and to learn more about the island nation. Over 110 years ago Japan gifted Washington D.C.’s famous cherry trees to the country.

This cultural and educational exchange is especially meaningful to Wanner. Her father, a retired member of the U.S. Air Force, was frequently deployed to Japan when she was growing up, and is deployed there now as a contractor.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the program, which started in 1948. Over 3,000 young women have participated since its inception. The U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen is selected from the princesses through a random wheel of fortune spin.

The princesses have been holding biweekly Zoom meetings to get to know each other and discuss community engagement initiatives in advance of the festivities, said Wanner, and she is most looking forward to connecting with these women in person and networking.

“I’m overjoyed to spend time with them,” she said. “Each of them comes from such a diverse background than me. We have lawyers, we have school teachers, we have health care professionals, we have engineers. It’s incredible spending time with women who are like-minded and have the same compassion for community.”