Mt. Lebanon grad earns title as Cherry Blossom Princess
To get a gauge on how high-profile the Cherry Blossom Princess Program is, consider that representatives in the past have been given opportunities to meet the likes of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Laura Bush when she was first lady.
This year, it was the first daughter’s turn.
“We met Ivanka Trump one night, which was really neat,” Kara Touscany said about one of her experiences as Pennsylvania’s 2017 Cherry Blossom Princess. “She came to one of our events, at the Japanese ambassador’s house.”
A 2014 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate who is entering her senior year at George Mason University, Touscany was among representatives of the 50 states, U.S. territories and select nations who were chosen for the program, which promotes cultural, educational and professional development for young women leaders.
The 70th-anniversary festivities took place in Washington, D.C., during the April National Cherry Blossom Festival, commemorating the 1912, gift of Japanese cherry trees – called sakura in their native country – from the mayor of Tokyo to the U.S. capital. Japan sends a cherry queen and princess each year, whom their American counterparts had a chance to get to know.
“Their English was phenomenal,” Touscany recalled. “It was cool to interact with them and learn about their culture and how different it is from the U.S.”
Program participants also were able to learn firsthand about other nationalities visits to the Japan Information and Culture Center and the Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington, D.C., along with the embassies of Russian and Lithuania.
Helping to sponsor Touscany’s participation was Inova Translational Medicine Institute, where she interns. The Falls Church, Va., nonprofit research institute, which applies genomic and clinical information from individuals to develop innovative methods for personalized health care, is about 15 minutes from the campus of George Mason, the largest public research university in Virginia.
“It’s been a really great experience for me,” Touscany, a biology major who plans to attend medical school, said about working at ITMI. “Everybody is so willing to help me and teach me, and they want me to be as involved as I can be.”
That type of environment is reminiscent of what she experienced at Mt. Lebanon High School.
“Every teacher there was facilitating a more active role than just learning,” she said. “It didn’t always feel like they would give a project just to give a project. They did it to benefit you in some way.”
A recycling-oriented assignment from Mike Gullo, her advanced placement environmental geosciences teacher, resulted in benefiting others. Touscany and classmate Hannah Linn decided to take items that otherwise would have been discarded during end-of-the-year locker cleanups and donate them to a Pittsburgh Public Schools elementary building.
“For me, it’s showed me how close to home people are in need,” Touscany told The Almanac at the time. “You drive 10 minutes and people need school supplies. People do really need help right here at home.”
At George Mason, she continues her philanthropic efforts by working with other members of her sorority, Chi Omega, to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation, including an annual Wish Week.
“Every year, we work together all week to help grant a wish for a child,” she explained.
As the next phase of her education nears, Touscany is applying to medical schools, including the University of Pittsburgh.
“I’d love to come home,” she said. “But the one I get into is my top choice.”