Non-trad inspires with diligence

On February 13, 2014

Leon Johnson, a senior history education major, is not a stereotypical college student. At the age of 63 Johnson is giving new meaning to the term non-traditional.

After 40 years of being out of school Johnson decided to take advantage of the tuition assistance the state of Arkansas offers to residents over the age of 60.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 79 percent of enrolled college students were between the ages of 18-24 in 2012. But those numbers haven’t stopped non-traditional students like Johnson from giving school another shot.

“I basically get to go to school for free, so I figured I might as well give it a try,” he said.

Johnson had some reservations about getting back in school, fearing he may no longer possess the mental capabilities required of a college student. However, he was admitted to the secondary education program and carries a 3.8 GPA. With multiple appearances on the Dean and Chancellor’s Lists he seems to be doing just fine.

In his younger years Johnson earned an Associate’s Pastoral Degree at seminary school and has preached for 30 years. He has spent the last six years as the pastor of Third Avenue Baptist in Paragould.

For seven years Johnson has also been employed through SubTeach USA, quickly becoming a favorite substitute teacher at schools like Paragould and Greene County Tech.

In addition, he drives the athletics bus for Williams Baptist College and manages to fit golfing into his spare time.

Although he will not graduate until spring of 2015, he has already received job offers.

He is not actively looking for a second career but he is not one to waste an opportunity and looks forward to what the future may bring. Either way, Johnson said he hopes to have a positive impact on the younger generation.

Johnson’s youngest daughter, Tiffani, has already earned her Bachelor’s and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Chemistry. She said she loves that her dad decided to get back in school.

“I’ve always thought he was too smart and driven to not go back to college,” she said.

Going to school with your parents would be a nightmare for some students but Tiffani embraces it.

“We haven’t actually had class together but we have had some of the same professors. It’s kind of neat to be able to compare experiences, and offer advice on who to take for certain classes and who he should avoid,” she said.

At first, Johnson was nervous about being in class with a bunch of youngsters. Fortunately, his classmates have welcomed him as one of their own even though he is old enough to be their grandfather. Johnson feels at home in the classroom and enjoys helping fellow students.

Since becoming a student he has made lots of contacts and friends. This he credits to his outgoing personality. He said he’s never met a stranger.

He considers being a student less difficult at this stage in his life than it would have been in his younger years.

“I don’t have as many distractions as a young person (does). I’ve been able to develop discipline and working skills throughout life and that has helped a lot,” Johnson said.

He encourages everyone, regardless of their age or place in life, to give college education a try.

“If anyone feels like that’s something they want to do and they are able, they should go for it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

With four children and five grandchildren, Johnson has a large family who is supportive of his educational pursuits. Johnson’s wife, to whom he has been happily married for 35 years, has even returned to school herself.

He understands the value of a great support system and said he feels fortunate to be a student again.

“I’ve been very blessed with my family and the opportunity to further enhance my knowledge,” Johnson said.


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