After missing commencement exercises because she was already using her degree and teaching, PFC Elizabeth Barker Johnson will finally have the chance to walk across the stage and experience the thrill of graduation.
Johnson recently celebrated her 99th birthday, and she had some very special guests at the party.
Dr. Darryl Scriven, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education at Winston-Salem State University, and Dr. Shannon Matthews, interim associate dean of the college were in attendance to present Johnson with a very special gift.
Dr. Scriven invited Johnson to participate in this year's commencement exercises and Dr. Matthews presented her with a box containing her cap, gown, and stole.
You can see the emotional birthday announcement below:
Elizabeth Barker Johnson's 99th Birthday Surprise youtu.be
Johnson was born and raised in Elkin, NC but had to travel to Winston-Salem to attend school because there were no schools for black students in the segregated town.
She has made history several times throughout her life, first enlisting in the army in 1943, where she joined the 6888th regiment—the only battalion made up entirely of African American women that served overseas during WWII.
She is one of only 5 members of the 6888th still alive today. A monument honoring all 855 members of the battalion was recently unveiled at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Johnson then made history again by being the first woman to attend what was then Winston-Salem Teachers College using the GI Bill.
She graduated with an education degree in 1949 and immediately went to work. She was unable to participate in her class' graduation ceremony because she was unable to find a substitute to cover her classroom during the event.
Elwood L. Robinson, WSSU chancellor, commented on Johnson's life and commitment to helping others:
"From serving her country during World War II to impacting the lives of hundreds of students as a classroom teacher in North Carolina and Virginia, PFC Elizabeth Barker Johnson is the embodiment of Winston-Salem State's motto, 'Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve.'"
"We are inspired by her and excited to give her the opportunity, 70 years later, to finally walk across stage for commencement."
When asked what she thought about finally getting to walk across the stage, Johnson said:
"I'm going to think I'm dreaming."
Social media users were excited that Johnson would finally have the opportunity to march with a graduating class.
2019 commencement exercises for Winston-Salem State University will be held on May 10th, starting at 8:45 a.m.
Anyone who cannot attend the event will be able to see it live-streamed at WSSU's website.