Furman University President Elizabeth Davis gave a special welcome to the Class of 2022, and alum Keith B. Johnson ’05 talked about his journey from the Paladin football field to becoming one of the youngest judges in the state of Georgia as the university celebrated the beginning of the 2018-19 school year with opening convocation Monday.
Following the ceremony, the entire university community enjoyed a special luncheon on the Furman Mall.
Johnson, who maintains a private criminal defense practice in addition to serving as an associate Juvenile Court Judge for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, spoke to the crowd about how Furman’s professors pushed him beyond his academic boundaries and led him to attend law school at Michigan State University after graduation.
“I came to Furman with no intention of being an attorney, let alone a judge,” said Johnson, who majored in history. “I didn’t know those kind of people growing up. I didn’t know anybody who had run the gauntlet of going to law school.”
Johnson cited History Professor Marian Strobel and Politics and International Affairs professors Danielle Vinson and Glen Halva-Neubauer as particularly important mentors who helped him at various stages during his four years at Furman and convinced him it was possible to pursue a career in law.
“That, my friends, is The Furman Advantage,” Johnson told the students. “It’s about what you learn about yourself and about how these people are here to help you. So I challenge you to seize the opportunities that Furman provides, get involved, meet new people, challenge your own ideas, and take some risks. Don’t let your Furman years be something you passively observe.”
In 2013, at the age of 30, Johnson was appointed and commissioned by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to serve as an associate Juvenile Court Judge for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, making him one of the youngest judges ever appointed in the state. In 2018, he became the first black male appointed president of the Augusta Bar Association, which was founded in 1895.
Jeremy Cass, associate academic dean and professor of modern languages and literatures, also spoke to the students prior to introducing Johnson and his remarks are available here.
As part of the festivities, the university introduced the five members of the senior class who have been named Furman Fellows for the current academic year. They are Laurin Bixby of Edmond, Oklahoma, Chambers English of Macon, Georgia, Katherine West of Edgewood, Kentucky, Ju Sun “Paul” Yoon of Duluth, Georgia, and Dalton “Craig” Yount of Fountain Inn. (Biographical information on each of the Fellows is below.)
The Furman Fellow awards are made possible through the generosity of Furman trustee emeritus Bob Buckman and his wife, Joyce Mollerup.
The university also recognized two individuals who received special honors at Furman’s May commencement. Associate Librarian Scott D. Salzman received the Faculty Meritorious Award for Diversity & Inclusion, while the Staff Meritorious Award for Diversity & Inclusion was presented to Allyson Brown, director of diversity and transfer recruitment.
Sandi Annone, an assistant in the philosophy department, was honored as Staff Person of the Year.
Laurin Bixby, a Health Sciences and Sociology major from Edmond, Oklahoma, has participated in summer research, presented at conferences and has studied away. A scholar and public health advocate known for her intellectual curiosity, Laurin distinguishes herself through her academic diligence, responsibility, tenacity and commitment to whatever task she takes on. As president and student ambassador of Save the Children Action Network and co-founder of the organization at Furman, Laurin has made the Furman, local and global communities better places through her volunteer service. In addition to service through the Heller Service Corps and the Shucker Leadership Institute, Laurin volunteers at the Frazee Dream Center, an after-school program for at-risk children in West Greenville. She has organized a “students of solidarity rally” to advocate for refugee children, served as an officer of the Poverty Awareness Committee and has helped develop a poverty symposium to promote awareness of poverty in local and global communities.
Chambers English, of Macon, Georgia, is an Earth and Environmental Sciences and Philosophy major. Chambers has been described as hardworking, grounded, approachable and responsible. He has the unique ability to think across disciplinary boundaries, and this, in addition to his passion for wanting to make a difference, makes him a true agent for change on campus and in the community. A leader in campus sustainability and environmental education initiatives, Chambers has led a research team in drafting a 10-year university zero waste plan, and is president of the Environmental Action Group, a proactive student group that works to promote environmental awareness on campus and beyond. Chambers was selected to be a part of the Shucker Leadership Institute and is a member of the Mere Christianity Forum where he chairs the organization’s programming efforts to bring community members, professors and national scholars to campus for meaningful dialogue on campus and community sustainability issues. An avid woodworker, Chambers has recently begun an initiative to reclaim wood from trees felled on campus.
Katherine West, a Politics and International Affairs major from Edgewood, Kentucky, fully lives out The Furman Advantage. A leader in Furman’s mock trial program, Katherine has received numerous outstanding attorney awards, and her professionalism, competence and maturity bring prestige to Furman each time she competes. Katherine worked on education policy issues during an internship at the Riley Institute where she is a member of the Advance Team. In preparation for her career goal of advancing justice for all, regardless of income, Katherine participated in an internship with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in Washington D.C. Her problem-solving skills and commitment to making a difference at Furman and in the lives of others is demonstrated by her work in addressing the problem of low voter registration among Furman students. She serves as president of DinsVote! and in 2016 was instrumental in winning Furman students the right to register to vote in Greenville county, despite the location of their home districts. A nominating professor said, “I have taught at Furman for 20 years and can say with confidence that Katherine embodies the very best of what it means to be a Furman student. She is both passionate and compassionate, humble and courageous, driven and kind, smart and fun, creative and innovative.”
Ju Sun “Paul” Yoon is from Duluth, Georgia, and is majoring in Economics and Mathematics-Economics. Because of his brilliant and intuitive mind and his clear, neat and precise approach to problem solving, Paul is widely regarded as an outstanding academic. A nominating professor stated, “Paul is among the top 10 students I have ever had the pleasure to teach in my 23 years at Furman.” Paul serves as secretary of the Furman Economics Society and last summer pursued research in economics through the Hollingsworth Summer Research Program. His accomplishments, however, extend far beyond economics. Paul is also an accomplished cellist, recognized as one of the music department’s highest-achieving students. He displays a technical mastery of his instrument and performs at the very highest level – an exceptional achievement for a non-music major. In addition, he is a proficient jazz bass player and guitarist. Paul shares his talents with the community, teaching guitar and cello to middle school students and performing for services at both St. Paul’s Church and the Korean Community Presbyterian Church in Greenville. Eclectic, passionate and talented, Paul epitomizes the spirit of the Furman Fellows award.
Dalton “Craig” Yount hails from Fountain Inn, South Carolina, and is an Economics and Religion major. Demonstrating both enormous intellectual gifts and high moral character, Craig’s life-affirming enthusiasm – along with his creativity and humility – enable him to see and bring out the best in other people. His curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular paths at Furman show his desire to explore, create and have a positive impact on others. Craig has worked tirelessly as a student leader and volunteer across a wide range of service-oriented activities. He helps to provide a safe place for learning and creativity for underprivileged children in Greenville and Berea as the student coordinator for the Brutontown Community Center. He has also directed the Men of Distinction volunteer program, working with at-risk youth at Berea Middle School. In addition, Craig has played an active role in the Reformed University Fellowship, the Mere Christianity Forum and is the student director of the Heller Service Corps. A nominating professor said, “Never have I seen such cheerful tenacity in an undergraduate student, and I am confident that everyone who knows Craig shares my deep respect for his character and great heart.”