Olivia Johnson is humbled to be named the 2019 Indianapolis 500 Queen Scholar, but she isn’t letting the crown go to her head.
“This is truly an empowering and important program for young women,” Johnson said Monday, May 20. “I believe there is unity in the work being done through the 500 Princess program, and it is a stronghold of 33 young women promoting volunteering in our great state.”
Johnson, who had applied to be part of the court three times before being selected, found strength in sharing her story and connecting with Hoosiers across the state.
“I was so fortunate to be able to travel around Indiana and meet so many wonderful people (as a princess). It was an honor to get to share time and stories with everyone,” Johnson said.
“One moment that was significant to me was at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum grand opening of the sports legend experience. I met a young girl who asked me how I earned my sash. Her question was pure and it struck me because she wanted to know how to earn a place. I had not shared my story in full before, but I did with her. I was able to talk about how I applied three times before being accepted. I was able to talk to her about how everything happens for a reason and in the right time. We talked about how perseverance makes us better as people.
“I became comfortable with my own story. I also found a strong connection with others in sharing what it means to not give up. That day was so incredible because I was able to speak with so many kids about how volunteering and keeping a positive attitude are important in helping create a better world.”
Johnson graduated from Zionsville High School in 2016. She was very involved in the community and worked at the Hearth at Tudor Gardens and Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Library.
This is the 60th anniversary of the princess program. Johnson was one of 33 young women selected for the 2019 500 Festival Princess Program. Each 500 Festival Princess receives a $1,000 scholarship.
This year’s princesses represent 13 Indiana colleges and universities and 20 cities and towns across the state. With a cumulative GPA of 3.65, this year’s 500 Festival Princesses were selected from hundreds of applicants based on communication skills, academic performance and community involvement.
As a part of the program, each princess must conduct at least three community outreach programs. These programs are designed to help share information and foster a positive impact on the state of Indiana.
Princesses must also volunteer at 500 Festival events and assist with a variety of Indianapolis Motor Speedway events. Johnson participated in more than 50 outreach events.
“I was so excited to have the opportunity to go out and volunteer in our state,” Johnson said. “The program does some amazing things especially in central Indiana. Each event was unique and gave me a chance to meet fellow Hoosiers. One thing I worked to do was be present in the moment. I never thought about the next event, I just wanted to embrace the people and place I was sharing that moment with and I believe that made our works even better.”
The daughter of Ed and Joyce Johnson, she attributed much of her success to the unconditional love and support of her parents and to her mentor Kathy Cabello.
“My dad said he was shocked when my name was called but not at all surprised,” he said. “His words meant a lot to me and still do.”
In the program, each princess has a mentor to help guide her through the and offer professional leadership development.
“Kathy and her husband Eddie helped me tremendously,” Johnson said.
Johnson has just completed her junior year at Purdue University in West Lafayette, where she is studying Spanish. She also works at the Indianapolis Zoo as a Global Conservation Interpretive Guide, and in her free time she is part of Crazy Monkey Improv.
As 500 Festival Queen Scholar, Johnson is the recipient of an additional $1,500 educational scholarship from Fifth Third Bank.
Johnson received a one-of-a-kind 500 Festival Queen Scholar’s crown to be worn at 500 Festival events and the Indianapolis 500.
“I am humbled to be named the Queen Scholar. I want to honor the crown and be mindful of what it means to be named queen,” Johnson said. “I look forward to wearing the crown at the 500 pre-race and Victory Circle celebration and at all the events leading up to the race, but I have decided to not wear the crown when I am attending other princess events and instead I will wear my princess tiara. I believe unity is an important part of the festival. I do not want to take anything away from the hard work other princesses are doing through their outreach programs. I want to do everything I can to support their works.”
Johnson will continue to represent the 500 Festival at various functions throughout the year.
“Out of all the activities and experiences that I could be a part of, I believe the 500 Festival Princess Program is unparalleled because it gives Indiana college women a remarkable platform to proudly seek opportunities for leadership and transform passions into reality within the Hoosier community, locally and state-wide. And in being part of the program, I can help further the vision and be part of a volunteer group with a very proud history and tradition,” she said.