Finding Her Way

Olive Flagg-Bourke’s college career has been disjointed. It was fragmented into two different majors, with a semester-long break between. But navigating its unpredictability earned the senior English major recognition as one of 39 Honors College seniors to win a 2021 Mizzou ’39 Award.

Olive Flagg-Bourke portrait
Olive Flagg-Bourke is an English major with a deep love for literature.

Flagg-Bourke was surprised when she learned she had been selected for the award.

“Dr. [J.D.] Bowers [MU Honors College director] emailed me about the award, and my first thought was, ‘why?’ ” Flagg-Bourke says. “Life sometimes seems very big, and winning this award is one of those moments that seems bigger than myself. It gives me confidence.” 

Flagg-Bourke started at Mizzou as an engineering major and changed to English after a memorable classroom experience.

“It was the first class I had at college where I was like, ‘this is what I’m going to major in,’ ” Flagg-Bourke says. “Part of the appeal was the idea of reanalyzing stories today and finding new meaning in them. I like looking at texts now through different lenses, like a feminist lens, to find new meaning today. It’s reclaiming literature.”

After a few semesters as an English major, Flagg-Bourke dropped out for a semester due to stress. This was a difficult decision for Flagg-Bourke and her family, but she thanks the Honors College andBowers for easing the transition.

“[The Honors College] is the one academic space where I don’t feel like I’m competing with everyone else,” Flagg-Bourke says. “The sentiment is, ‘We want what’s best for you, and that’s different for everyone. It’s OK if you fail.’ ”

While Flagg-Bourke’s decision was difficult, she is thankful for the rest it provided, and the support of the Honors College she had during that time.

“Everyone needs a mental-health break sometimes,” Flagg-Bourke says. “That’s what the Honors College means to me. It’s this community where when I fail, they’re there to help me in whatever kind of area I need help in.”

On-campus, Flagg-Bourke tries to better the experiences of other students around her.

“I like connecting with people, and helping people out,” she says. “I like being someone who people in class can ask for notes when they miss a day. I try to make sure other people aren’t getting left behind.”

Flagg-Bourke is optimistic about her future. Off-campus, throughout her college career, Flagg-Bourke worked as a volunteer at the Missouri United Methodist Church. Now, she has climbed the ladder and become the director of youth ministries — with a full-time position awaiting her upon graduation.

“I’m really proud of that,” Flagg-Bourke says. “All that hard work paid off.”