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Worthington graduate to give U of M commencement address

Worthington High School graduate Cheniqua Johnson is Thursday's University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development undergraduate ceremony student speaker. (Special to The Globe)

MINNEAPOLIS — Cheniqua Johnson is confident her college years will be some of the best of her lifetime.

However, with graduation in sight, she won’t let that blindside where she needs and wants to go in the future.

That’s the message the Worthington native will share with her fellow classmates as she delivers the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development student commencement address. Ceremonies kick off at 5 p.m. Thursday at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis. Johnson will take the stage at 5:30 p.m.

“It’s incredible,” Johnson said of being Thursday’s selected undergraduate ceremony student speaker from a pool of expectant graduates that applied for the honor.

In fact, the moment will accomplish one of the family social science student’s college goals — one she vividly remembers making more than four years ago as she walked into a law school classroom.

“One of my goals to was to speak in front of a crowd like that,” the 2013 Worthington High School graduate said. “Now, four years later when I’m ready to graduate and leave, to have that opportunity is such an honor.”

When considering her message, the 22-year-old first-generation college student said she about thought what she’d want to hear if she was sitting out in the crowd on graduation day. She plans to be motivational and radiate positive energy during her address.

“It’s OK to be different, and to take different paths and not be what everybody thinks you should be like,” Johnson added as part of her message to graduates. “At the end of the day, it’s your goal and what you want to do.”

Johnson — who was highly involved, particularly in the fine arts while a Trojan — also participated in a variety of activities, organizations and internships while at the University of Minnesota.

She was involved in the Black Motivated Women, Black Student Union, CEHD Student Senate, the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, TRIO Student Alliance, Undergraduate Student Advisory Board and the U of M Women’s Center. She held internships in the Office of Governor Mark Dayton and in Washington through the Council for Opportunity in Education with the Office of Senator Richard J. Durbin. According to the University of Minnesota CEHD communications staff, Johnson is currently a participant in the Dr. Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy, an intergenerational, year-long leadership training program for African American leaders in the Twin Cities.

While many of Johnson’s internship experiences revolved around policy, she found she was passionate about discussions centered on families and communities and topics involving education, access to food and mental health services.

“I was interested in talking about things that drastically impacted families, whether positive or negative,” she said.

That passion will drive her forward.

“I want to continue to work in politics and continue to represent my community, my hometown and people and places that need a voice,” she said. “I want to be a public servant.”

Law school, she added, is definitely in her future. The immediate plan, though, is to continue working as the staff assistant/intern coordinator for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.

Johnson has a great appreciation for her family, who have supported her college endeavors.

“In Worthington we all have people to look up to, and I’ve had my family supporting me and making sacrifices,” she said. “It’s setting a different tone for future generations for people in my family.”

A livestream of Thursday’s graduation can be viewed at https://livestream.com/accounts/24064085/events/8165728.

Alyssa Sobotka

Alyssa joined The Globe in July 2017 and covers education and crime beats. The Nebraska native earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In her own sarcastic tone, her blog, Aimlessly Navigating, recounts the reality, pitfalls and triumphs of a young 20-something navigating to maturity. Follow her on Twitter: @alyssasobotka

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