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five people in kimono and face masks looking at the camera
From left, Shelly Teruko Imamura, Motomi Otsubo, Brianne Kehau Yamada, Taylor Kaydi Onaga, Taylor Emi Tashiro (Photo courtesy: Cherry Blossom Festival Hawaii)

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Engineering alumna is the 69th Cherry Blossom Festival queen. Brianne Kehau Yamada, who also won the titles of Miss Popularity and Miss Congeniality, was crowned at the festival’s annual ball on April 3, 2021.

yamada in kimono
Brianne Kehau Yamada (Photo courtesy: Cherry Blossom Festival Hawaii)

“I vividly remember standing on the side with the two awards and at the point I had told myself, ‘I was genuinely grateful,’” Yamada said. “When I was called for queen, I couldn’t even comprehend what had happened and when I had walked towards the area for us to get crowned, I was just shaking and my coordinator and the president were around me, congratulating me.”

Yamada added, “The whole experience was just a speechless moment for me.”

Festival ball

This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival ball was held in person with COVID-19 safety protocols at the Sheraton Waikiki. Family members and friends were able to view the ceremony from rooms in the hotel.

The festival ball was the culmination of several weeks of virtual cultural and professional development classes, including instruction in taiko, tea ceremony, Japanese cuisine, Japanese business etiquette and public speaking. Yamada and the 10 other contestants also participated in several virtual public appearances.

“To go from talking every single day and seeing each other almost seven days a week at some points, to now decompressing, was the harder part for all of us,” Yamada said. “I feel now that we’re starting, we’re meeting and trying to learn more about what our court experience is going to be like. It’s been really exciting.”

Yamada added, “We’re excited to come up with our community service ideas and so we are looking forward to using our platform to make as big of an impact that we can in our community.”

Festival court filled with UH grads

Joining Yamada on the court are First Princess Taylor Kaydi Onaga, and Princesses Taylor Emi Tashiro, Shelly Teruko Imamura and Motomi Otsubo.

  • Tashiro earned a master of science in biomedical sciences from UH Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, a bachelor of science in molecular cell biology from UH Mānoa’s School of Life Sciences and an associate in science in natural science from Leeward Community College. Tashiro is currently a microbiology lecturer at Leeward CC.
  • Imamura earned a bachelor of business administration in human resources management from UH Mānoa’s Shidler College of Business.
  • Otsubo earned a bachelor of science in civil engineering from UH Mānoa’s College of Engineering.

The theme of this year’s festival was “kibou,” Japanese for hope. The event was hosted by the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce. Visit the Cherry Blossom Festival website for more information.

Proud alumna

Yamada earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering and is an engineer with Hawaiian Electric focused on clean and renewable energy. She is a board member of the Engineering Alumni Association and an active supporter of the College of Engineering.

“I’m so proud to be a part of that group of people—to be able to give back to the next generation of engineers and more specifically, to empower the young women that are looking towards engineering or are already studying engineering, and know that this is a field that we women thrive in,” Yamada said.

During her academic career, Yamada served as president of the Engineers’ Council at UH. She was also a member of the Society of Women Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Pi Tau Sigma, and was a drum major for the UH “Rainbow Warrior” Marching Band.

“Being at UH Mānoa, it was this building of your networks. For me, it was meeting people that became my mentors and also the people that I still consider my best friends,” Yamada said. “That has helped me to network with so many different people, but also become curious and look for a job in Hawaiʻi to be able to stay here and give back in some way.”

Yamada’s active involvement in several UH Mānoa programs is an example of UH Mānoa’s goals of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF) and Building a Sustainable and Resilient Campus Environment: Within the Global Sustainability and Climate Resilience Movement (PDF), three of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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