Emma Flanagan ('20) will always cherish the moment she met her biological mother for the first time. Fifteen years after being adopted as a seven-month-old baby, Flanagan arrived in a small rural village in her birth province of Bac Giang, Vietnam. Though they did not speak the same language, she and her birth mother looked into each other’s eyes, embraced, and knew instantly how thankful and appreciative they were to be in one another’s presence.

Flanagan recently won Catholic University’s 2017 Zack F. Billotte Memorial Award, given to an outstanding freshman for student life participation, academic ability and leadership potential. The award is named after a beloved student who passed away suddenly during his senior year at Catholic University in 2006.

“My biological mother is very poor  ... Her sacrifice to give me up for adoption is truly inspirational, as she made the ultimate gift to provide me with the chance of a better life.”
– Emma Flanagan

Humbled to receive this honor, Flanagan credits her drive and determination to her knowledge of what her life could have been like had she not been adopted, compared to the many opportunities she has experienced in the United States.

“My biological mother is very poor and has lived her whole life on a small fishing boat, not much bigger than a closet,” she said. “Her sacrifice to give me up for adoption is truly inspirational, as she made the ultimate gift to provide me with the chance of a better life.”

Flanagan was adopted in 1998 by a couple in Dayton, Ohio. Her adoptive mother works at the University of Dayton, and her father was living his entrepreneurial dream as the owner of Flanagan’s Pub. She grew up with a brother, also adopted, but from a different biological family in Vietnam.

The trip to meet Flanagan’s biological family was a tremendous effort and a highlight of her life, especially given the fact that her adoptive father passed away soon after, due to a sudden onset of cancer.

“His ambition and spirit continues to inspire me to strive and make him proud of me everyday, “ she said. “While he's not physically present in my life today, I will always be thankful for the love and compassion he shared with my family and me — beginning with adopting me from Vietnam.”

Her father’s memory is part of her driving inspiration to work as hard as she can to live out her personal, academic, and leadership potential.

As soon as she came to Catholic University, she signed up for as many clubs and organizations as possible. A marketing major, Flanagan serves as the digital marketing chair of Program Board, the president of the Spanish Club, the Class of 2020 Representative of the Student Philanthropy Council, a mentor in the Busch School of Business Major Mentor Program, a member of Phi Eta Sigma and a teacher’s assistant for a freshman management lab, just to name a few.

She also works at the Kane Fitness Center in marketing and event planning and holds an internship at the University’s Communications and Marketing Department. She will begin another internship at RCN, a broadcasting company, this spring.

“Studying at Catholic University has opened many doors for me and given me so many opportunities,” she said. “It’s an honor to be recognized among other student leaders, like Zack Billotte, who have done so much for student life here.”

In the future, Flanagan aspires to work for an international marketing consulting company. Through Catholic University she studied abroad in Rome her freshman year and will study abroad in Shanghai, China this summer. Her dream is to spend her future career working and traveling throughout Europe and Asia. While she has always had the travel bug she felt she came to know her deep desire for cultural experience as soon as she set foot in the country of her roots.