A Stratford Academy senior was crowned the 2016 Cherry Blossom Queen at Porter Auditorium on the campus of Wesleyan College on Saturday night.
Hinal Patel, who also was voted Miss Congeniality by the other contestants, was selected from a field of 17 Middle Georgia high school juniors and seniors with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Patel is the daughter of Sam and Dipika Patel and is active in volleyball, theater, Students Advocating Life Without Substance Abuse and the National Honor Society.
Patel is most looking forward to meeting people and riding in the Cherry Blossom Parade on March 19.
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"I'm so grateful. I was not expecting this at all," said the young woman who teaches Hinduism and classical Indian dance and volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House and Morningside of Macon.
Patel won a $2,000 scholarship.
Four contestants also were crowned princesses on the royal court and received $500 scholarships: first runner-up Hailey Stephens, a junior at Howard High School; second runner-up Sydney Reese, who is First Presbyterian Day School's first African-American homecoming queen; third runner-up Amellia Smith, a senior at Central High School; and fourth runner-up, Stratford Academy's Monica Montalvo-Perez, During the pageant, Susi Keller was crowned the festival's Senior Queen and Doreitha Evans was crowned Senior Princess.
On Feb. 27 at the Douglass Theatre, 6-year-old Riley Gibson, of Macon, and 5-year-old Damarkus Hutcherson, of Lamar County, were crowned Little Mr. & Miss Cherry Blossom as two dozen youngsters competed to be the festival's youngest royal ambassadors.
The youngsters made their first public appearance during Saturday's pageant.
The court will appear at numerous events during this year's Cherry Blossom Festival officially runs March 25-April 3, but events are scheduled as early as March 17.
Schedules are posted at cherryblossom.com.