Double major: father and son attend college

Dad goes back to school after a long break to raise a family; he graduates this week

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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If You Go:

More than 700 students will graduate at the 7 p.m. ceremony Thursday at Sunlight Supply Amphitheater at 17200 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the ceremony is expected to last until 9 p.m. Actor Ernie Hudson, who played Winston Zeddemore in Ghostbusters, will be the commencement speaker. Tickets are not required, and parking is free.

Kelly Johnson’s Clark College story begins and ends with his family.

Johnson this week will graduate from Clark College with his associate’s degree in supervisory management, completing a degree he started nearly 30 years ago then stopped pursuing his degree to support his wife and children.

Johnson, a supervisor at a local manufacturing company, attended Clark College in the early 1990s when he was fresh out of high school. But after he got married, began working nights and had his two sons, he dropped out. He recalls being so tired he’d fall asleep in class.

“What made me stop was my family,” Johnson said. “I quit to dedicate time to my new little family.”

But a painful divorce in 2012 left Johnson lost, unsure of what direction to take his new life.

“I defined myself as a husband and a father,” he said. “Suddenly, I wasn’t a husband anymore.”

At the urging of a friend, Johnson returned to Clark College. This week, he joins more than 700 students who will graduate at the 7 p.m. ceremony Thursday at Sunlight Supply Amphitheater.

“I feel so optimistic about the future,” Johnson said. “Everything is great.”

Returning to school also gave him a chance to continue supporting his family, the very thing he left school for in the first place. His youngest son, 19-year-old Brady Johnson, is also a Clark College student in the same supervisory management program. Johnson says he tries to be a role model for his youngest son, so when classes got hard or life became overwhelming, he didn’t allow himself to consider dropping out again.

“I wanted to set an example,” he said. “If I quit, what message does that send?”

Brady Johnson hopes to pursue a career in the medical field, and said his father has always been a leader and a strong character in his life. His return to college exemplified that.

“Seeing that comeback was really inspiring,” Brady Johnson said.

The two don’t do homework together, though. Johnson said he’s too competitive for that.

Nick Kaster, Johnson’s close friend of nearly 20 years, helped guide Johnson back to school. When Kaster went through his own divorce about 12 years ago, Johnson listened and supported his friend through it. The pair often talked about college, especially when new positions requiring college degrees opened at work.

“This thing with college had always been hanging around,” Kaster said. “I was like ‘Look man, why don’t you take your focus off of all this stuff and go to Clark?'”

To Kaster’s surprise, Johnson did.

“It was a brilliant idea,” Johnson said. “It gave me a goal, structure, social interaction.”

As one journey ends, another one begins for Johnson. He plans to spend his free time after graduating travelling with his wife, Carrie Johnson. Instead of gifts for their wedding last year, the pair asked friends to submit adventure ideas — and there are many to choose from and write about on the couple’s website.

“If returning to Clark College was healing, then my diploma is the period at the end of that sentence,” he said.