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Each year, the National Conference of State Societies sponsors a series of events during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., highlighting education and cultural exchange programs for cherry blossom princesses selected by state/territorial societies and embassies to represent them.

This year’s American Samoa Cherry Blossom Princess hails from Golden Beach.

Dolly Virginia Garrison, 19, was selected by the American Samoa Society of Washington, D.C. She was crowned March 10 at the Fort Meyer Community Center in Virginia.

“It was a complete honor to receive this title,” said Garrison, who is a one-quarter American Samoan. She said her American Samoan grandfather nominated her for the crown. “He is a high-talking chief in Samoa, and when I was selected he told me he was so proud of me and that it was such a blessing to receive such a great honor to represent American Samoa.”

“It is just so amazing, especially for my dad having grown up there,” said Dolly’s aunt, Wendy Button. “It truly brought him to tears, and we’re grateful that she gets to have this experience that she’ll remember forever.”

“I just felt so blessed and so thrilled for her,” said Dolly’s mother, Pamela Garrison. Pamela was selected as a princess back in 1986. “I know what it means to hold that title, and I also know what it means to her grandfather. This is so important.”

Toaali’i “Lopaki” Robert Palmer, a native of the villages of Fagatogo and Vaitogi in American Samoa, joined the Air Force when he was 18 and was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base shortly thereafter. “That’s where he met our mother,” Button said. After his active duty service, he joined the Washington, D.C., Air National Guard.

“That’s how we ended up in this area,” Button said.

Dolly, who graduated in 2011 from Grace Christian Academy of Maryland in Waldorf, currently attends Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois on academic scholarship. The freshman said she received the news of her selection as cherry blossom princess via phone. “When my family called I thought they were joking, but then I realized that this was serious,” she said. “I was shocked, and since I’m not full-blooded Samoan, it really means a lot.”

Washington’s cherry blossoms arrived early this year and have now faded. But the weeklong Cherry Blossom Princess Educational and Cultural Exchange Program for young women between 19 and 24 will run April 7 through 14.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the flowering of the cherry blossoms in Washington; the 64th anniversary of the Cherry Blossom Princess Educational and Cultural Exchange Program; and the 60th anniversary of the National Conference of State Societies.

Since 1948, more than 3,000 young women have participated in the NCSS Cherry Blossom Princess Educational and Cultural Exchange Program.

“Dolly is very well-rounded and will be successful in anything she decides to do, and even though it’s just a week-long event, that title lasts a lifetime,” her mother said. “I just couldn’t be more proud.”

The NCSS is the nonprofit, voluntary umbrella association for state and territorial societies in the national capital area. At one time or another, all 50 states have had active societies as well as the District of Columbia and the United States’ five territories: American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

jgoolsby@somdnews.com