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In so many ways, Leith Johnson is an example of someone who has overcome adversity. At a glance, Johnson’s story shows her returning to school in mid-life by enrolling in King’s Foundation Year Program (FYP) last year, and then starting the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program this year. When you dig deeper into Johnson’s story, however, you not only discover there are several challenges she has faced, but you see a person who welcomes the idea that nothing worthwhile in life is easy.
“I think there’s no dialling [it in] at King’s, at all. It’s really hard!” says Johnson. “But, really hard in a really great way, [and] in a really challenging way.”
Johnson isn’t one to shy away from challenges, either inside or outside the classroom at King’s. To start, she is an American adapting to life in Canada. Johnson and her husband are both transgender and the adoptive parents of two boys. The oldest is Black and his younger brother is Latino. Following an incident at their home in 2017, the family did not feel safe in the United States. Nonetheless, Johnson describes their relocation as “exchanging the comfortable for the uncomfortable.” She left behind her home, friends, community and an established career.
She also returned to school when she was old enough to be the mother of most of her classmates and even some of the teaching assistants. “When I came to King’s, I was very nervous,” she says, “being older and stuff and being around a lot of people who were closer in age to my kids than me.”
Johnson was used to being in the workforce and satisfying clients. Suddenly, she was struggling to write an academic paper and satisfy professors. Johnson felt overwhelmed and quickly became frustrated. “My tutor, who was just really a phenomenal personal, recognized that I was struggling a bit and he came to speak to me about it,” she explains. “Just to kind of be like, ‘you have a lot to say’ hoping that I would open up and stuff.”
“I had to make a decision [and thought] you know what? I’m going to do it,” she says. “I made a big effort.” Johnson tracked down nearly everybody in her tutorial group and introduced herself personally. She learned their names and told them her story. She made connections—some that became very strong. “There was just a lot of people I really grew to really care about, you know?” she says. She also began excelling academically, winning a prize for best paper at the end of last year.
King’s turned into a community for Johnson. She opened up, and in response it opened to her. “I think it really changed because I changed, too,” she says. “Even with the staff and people that work here, you know like Paul at the bookstore, Patricia at the library. There’s just so many, so many really groovy people at King’s.”