If you go to Jewell, you’ve probably seen me carrying one of my flags around campus. While I’m not the only person on campus who owns flags, I’m the only one who parades around the quad with a flag on my way to class or to the cafeteria. Most people know me as “the Flag Guy,” but they don’t know why I carry my flags, or what the flags mean to me.
My high school principal advised us to “let our freak flags fly.” It’s possible I took her a little too literally, but my love for flags and vexillology – the study of flags – began much earlier in my life.
I got my first flag when I was two or three. I don’t remember where it was from, but my Dad bought me a small souvenir flag from a business trip. My Dad collected flags from every trip he took and displayed them in a vase in his office. He started getting two flags, one for him and one for me.
I quickly grew to appreciate the design of the flags and loved the symbolism behind them. I enjoyed learning about the places each flag came from. I began to love history when I was five and became politically active in my early teens, but the flags came first.
I proudly took my flags to show-and-tell and drew lots of pictures of flags. By the time I was 10, I was adding to my flag collection on my own. I bought small flags at gift shops when we went on vacation, but it was always only the small souvenir flags.
Around this time, I started going to my older sister’s cross country meets. One of the booster club members asked me to carry the large team flag around the course to cheer on my sister and her teammates. I became the “Flag Kid” at every cross country meet for the next few years, until I was old enough to be on the team myself.
In 2011, I got my first full-sized flag. I purchased an Irish flag at the Kansas City Irish Festival. For me it had both cultural significance, since I’m of Irish ancestry, and political significance, since I’m an ardent supporter of Irish unification.
The next summer, I expanded my collection on a trip to Spain, where I bought Basque and Catalan flags to support the self-determination movements for both regions. From there my collection grew.
I used a flag at a protest for the first time in the summer of 2014, when I protested the Israeli bombing of Gaza. I’m politically minded, so I started carrying flags around the halls of my high school to show my support for various international political causes. I also began attending more political events and usually had a flag in tow. By the time I graduated from high school, I had more than a dozen full-sized flags.
Before long, my collection grew to 30 flags. Today, I own nearly 50. My first semester on the Hill hadn’t even begun before I started bringing my flags out on campus, often just for fun or to see how they looked in the wind. The first time someone called me the “Flag Guy” was in the second week of classes. In the least surprising plot twist ever, I decided to major in political science and history.
When I was a first-year, I marched around the whole quad with a flag to make sure it was seen by everyone. I wanted to educate people about the causes each flag represented and show my solidarity with those movements. Nowadays I am more purposeful with my flags. I usually only bring them out for specific events, although I confess sometimes I bring them out just for fun. After all, what’s the point in collecting them if they’re just sitting in a box forever?
I have flags for Jewell and the Chiefs and the Royals for game day, but the primary purpose for many of my flags is to use at demonstrations, protests and other political events.
Off the Hill, my reputation as the “Flag Guy” has spread to left-wing and activist circles in the Kansas City area. Often at demonstrations I bring several flags to share them with other protesters. A friend recently remarked that the number of flags at protests this summer had dropped considerably while I was in St. Louis for an internship. Perhaps the most used flag in my collection is the flag of the Democratic Socialists of America. At the recent Democratic Socialists of America National Convention in Atlanta, I brought a whole bag full of flags to wave on the convention floor – more than enough to share.
Sometimes I question if I really want to be the “Flag Guy.” I wonder if people think of me as an eccentric weirdo. I’ve thought I might be better off if I put the flags away and found another hobby. But at the end of the day, being the “Flag Guy” is hardly the worst thing I could be, and it probably makes me more interesting.
The flags are fun, and they often come in handy. It’s not uncommon that I get a message from a friend asking to borrow a pole or asking me to bring a flag to an upcoming event. My flags serve their purpose. While they don’t bring meaning to my life, they certainly bring more color. Maybe it’s okay to let my freak flags fly.