Cyril Johns is excited about the future. The UW Tacoma senior graduates in June with a degree in communication. “I’ve been given the gift of a pretty good brain and I want to see what I can do with it,” he said.
Johns came to UW Tacoma out of high school. “During my first year I was kind of lost. I took all of the core classes but nothing clicked,” he said. Johns found footing in a media and society course taught by Dr. Ellen Moore. “I was fascinated with the subject, about how a simple change in color can change your whole outlook on an ad,” he said.
Johns plans to take a year off following graduation. He’ll spend that time studying for the MCATs. He hopes to attend medical school and specialize in orthopedics. The decision to pursue medicine instead of a job in the communications field is personal. “My uncle’s friend was in the military and lost his leg in Kuwait,” said Johns. “I made him a K’nex leg when I was eight and I told him when I got older I’m going to make him something better.”
This anecdote illustrates two important components of Johns’ life: family and commitment to others. Johns’s grandparents came to the United States from Sierra Leone in the early 1980s. They settled in Southern California and raised eight children including Johns’s mother.
Having a large extended family proved beneficial in many ways. Johns’s mother was working as a teacher’s assistant. She decided to go to school to pursue a degree in medicine not long after Cyril was born. “We had to move a lot for her school and later for different job opportunities,” said Johns. He grew up cities across the United States including Chicago, St. Louis, Miami and Las Vegas.
Johns spent part of his childhood with his “aunties” in Southern California. The familial support made it possible for Johns’s mother to finish her degree and become a doctor. “Everyone pulled together to make it happen and that’s something I’ll never forget,” he said.
Johns’s family instilled in him a sense of service. “I was raised to help people as much as possible,” he said. Part of this philosophy is rooted in faith. Johns’s mother got him involved in church at a young age. “She really wanted to provide me with structure and a strong moral compass,” he said.
At age 11 Johns came down with a sinus infection. The illness didn’t slow him down. He went to school to be with friends. During a game of volleyball he suffered a broken nose. “The infection went straight to the back of my brain,” he said. Johns spent the next year in and out of the hospital. He credits his faith for helping him persevere. “I did a lot of praying and God must have heard me because I’m still here.”
Johns’s commitment to family and to others came together at UW Tacoma. While on campus he’s been busy with the Student Activities Board and the Black Student Union. During his junior year he worked as a peer adviser. “I got to see all of the resources that are available so I can help other students succeed,” he said.
Johns’s decision to attend UW Tacoma came out of a desire to be close to home. The Puyallup resident lives with his mother and now-six-year-old brother. “I had to get serious when he was born,” said Johns. “I want to show him what he can do, what’s possible.”
In the spring of 2016 Johns received the Husky 100 award. The tri-campus honor recognizes students who have made the most of their time in college. Johns is grateful for the honor. He says the award is recognition of how he is trying to live his life. “I strive to put my best foot forward, to make life better not just for myself, but for others.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org