The best part of being a 500 Festival Princess for Sarah Downing is serving the Indianapolis community through her outreach opportunities and 500 Festival events.
“I think this program is a wonderful way to embody the ideal of servant leadership, which is something I try to practice daily,” Downing said. “Servant leadership is about letting your everyday selfless actions inspire others to likewise rise up to be great leaders. Whether I wear a crown or not, I want others to see that the best leaders are the ones who are willing to put others before themselves.”
Downing, a Westfield resident and Guerin Catholic High School graduate, is one of the 33 500 Festival Princesses, including Westfield High School graduate Haley Phemister.
“All 33 of us love Indiana and we want our fellow Hoosiers to have the best experience possible with all the events leading up to the Indy 500,” Downing said. “Through our outreaches, we are building up others, and building up ourselves to be the leaders that Indiana will look to in the very near future.”
Downing was motivated to apply because her cousin was a 500 Festival Princess in 2007.
“She said it was one of the best experiences of her college career,” Downing said. “After hearing her testimony, and the experiences of other 500 Festival Princesses, I knew this was an incredible opportunity to be a part of a legacy that empowers women, provides leadership development and a sisterhood of lifelong friends.”
Downing has had a love for the Indy 500 since fourth grade, when she participated in the 500 Festival’s education program.
“The field trip to the Speedway was an unforgettable time for me and my classmates, and it helped build my love for the race,” she said.
Downing is set to graduate from Marian University in May with a Bachelor of Science in biology, with a concentration in ecology and environmental science.
Downing and Phemister were both involved in performing arts at their high schools. Phemister, a Butler University senior, is majoring in arts administration and Spanish.
“I would love to work in performing arts venues and manage events,” she said. “I love seeing how excited audience members get when they arrive at a venue ready to see a show.”
For her 500 Festival outreach, Phemister said she is planning some programs with Washington Woods Elementary School as well as the Indiana Children’s Wish Foundation.
Phemister said she is most looking forward to the opportunity to interact with organizations across the state and participate in leadership development.
“It also gives me a chance to be a role model for young women like my sister and show them that they are capable of achieving many great things,” she said. “I love event management, so I am thrilled to be able to see how so many of the events involved in the festival function and learn from that.”
Phemister said the Indy 500 and surrounding activities have always been an exciting part of the year.
“It always seemed to be a key part of summer in Indy, so it’s hard not to be a fan,” Phemister said. “My parents went to the race, so it was like a rite of passage when I got to go for the first time.”