As Cherry Blossom Queen, Mary Anne Morgan must wear bright colors or white for official appearances. (Sarah Corley) As Cherry Blossom Queen, Mary Anne Morgan must wear bright colors or white for official appearances. (Sarah Corley)

When Mary Anne Morgan heard her name announced as the 2013 Cherry Blossom Queen last April, she was stunned — and not fake-stunned, like so many other winners of diagonal sashes.

“There were about 60 girls crowded on the stage, and I was in the very back,” she says. “I think I even had my shoes off because they were hurting my feet. I just didn’t see it coming.”

Morgan, an Oklahoman who works for Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), was chosen at random from among 55 Cherry Blossom Princesses, young women nominated by state and territorial societies based on their achievements and ambitions. There are no talent or swimsuit competitions; to select the Queen, the Japanese ambassador spins a “wheel of fortune.” Winning means a goodwill tour of Japan, a crown and a pearl necklace made by Mikimoto, and a starring role in the National Cherry Blossom Festival (this year’s runs from March 20 to April 13).

Morgan’s reign ends when she crowns the 2014 queen on April 11. But before she retires, we asked her to answer some questions that tripped up more traditional pageant queens.

Would you rather be beautiful and dumb, or ugly and smart?

Mary Anne Morgan’s answer: “I would have to say ugly and smart, honestly. That’s … why I chose to work under my congressman — because I wanted to surround myself with smart people, not beautiful people.”

Traditional pageant queen’s answer: “I’d rather choose to be beautiful, because, to be beautiful, it’s natural. But being smart, you can learn. You can learn a lot of things from the experience. You can learn from a lot of things, being smart.” — Jeanie Anderson at the 2001 Miss Philippines pageant

Would you rather be water or fire?

Mary Anne Morgan’s answer: “I would probably have to say water because we all need it to survive. It’s soothing, it’s refreshing and it keeps us alive. Fire is more of a destructive force, water helps people survive.”

Traditional pageant queen’s answer: “Well, I’m a human being and I don’t know how is it to be a fire or a water, and from that reason I really don’t have answer on this question because I’m a human being. I’m a girl, which has an emotion, and fire and water doesn’t have.” — Sanja Papic, Miss Serbia and Montenegro, at the 2003 Miss Universe pageant

Among the five senses, which would you want if you could only have one?

Mary Anne Morgan’s answer: “If I had to pick one sense to rely on, I’d have to say sight. I’m a very visual person, so it would be extremely helpful for me to be able to see the other person I’m communicating with.”

Traditional pageant queen’s answer: “If I have to pick out of the five senses, I would pick seeing, because seeing is the best sense that we can ever see, because seeing is believing, and believing into what you see is perfect. Out of all those senses, seeing would really be wonderful.” — Joanlia Lising at the 2013 Miss Philippines USA pageant

Why do you think 20 percent of American schoolchildren can’t locate the United States on a map?

Mary Anne Morgan’s answer: “We are not teaching our children enough about geography and what the rest of the world looks like. It’s a really troubling statistic. If they aren’t even knowing where our country is, they aren’t going to be able to locate others, and they aren’t being educated on, say, international relations and understanding other cultures.”

Traditional pageant queens’ answer: “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps, and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa, and the Iraq, everywhere like such as. And I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. … should help South Africa. It should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for us.” — Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss South Carolina Teen USA, at the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant