Johnson Weekend brings out competition and excitement

Hundreds of students from all over the country compete for W&L’s coveted Johnson Scholarship.

Georgia Bernbaum

The Johnson Scholarship attracts thousands of applicants each year by offering a full ride and $7,000 stipend for summer experiences and internships. 

Of these applicants, the school invites about 200 finalists to participate in the Johnson Weekend to vie for only 40 spots. 

Tahri Phillips, ’23, a current Johnson scholar, described the weekend as a “whirlwind.”

“We were busy from sun up to sundown, and I can’t even tell you the number of people I met,” Phillips said.

Nonetheless, she said she enjoyed conversations with Johnson leaders and other students about campus culture and their favorite faculty. 

The annual on-campus competition includes participating in a series of interview panels with professors and alumni, learning about the Honor System and attendending various classes. Competitors stay in the dorms with student hosts and enjoy meals in the dining hall, allowing them to interact with current community members. 

For those students offered the Johnson scholarship, the endowment covers tuition and room and board for their undergraduate studies. Scholars have the opportunity to graduate debt-free from one of the most prestigious liberal arts universities in the country, thus providing financial freedom.

The scholarship is not only beneficial to the students, but to the university as well. The Johnson allows the school to diversify its student body, especially regarding race and socio-economic status. 

P.T. Meadors, ’24, another current Johnson scholar, said he believes the Johnson fund serves this goal.

“[It] has served as one of the largest agents of diversification on campus,” he said.

Phillips agreed.

“[The Johnson class] is probably more diverse than the whole student body,” she said.

Meadors also said he enjoyed his Johnson weekend. 

“I learned how [upperclassmen Johnson scholars] were able to leverage their experiences as Johnson scholars to create opportunities that they never saw for themselves,” he said. 

Recent Johnson finalist Jaeya Taxali said she most enjoyed getting to know people from all over the world and even made a friend from Jamaica. She added that the sense of belonging she felt was “unmatched.” 

Although the university covers travel expenses to campus for the Johnson Weekend,  Meadors believes socio-economic factors can still weigh on the selection process. 

“The process lends itself to students from elite educational backgrounds and therefore can pull primarily white students,” Meadors said. 

Applicants come from some of the best public and private high schools across the country. 

Meadors said he found this extremely intimidating and, in response, suggests Johnson Weekend leaders foster more discussions about imposter syndrome, especially for students from underrepresented backgrounds. 

Kierra Stankewich, ’25, a Johnson scholar and recent host, said she believes they can improve Johnson weekend by allotting more time to exploring clubs offered on campus and touring Lexington. She said this would be beneficial for all the prospective Johnsons, but especially for those who are first-generation college students. 

No matter how successful the Johnson Scholarship has been in encouraging more diversity among our campus, there are always new and innovative ways to make the scholarship and the Johnson weekend more inclusive.

When selecting the next class of Johnson scholars, the committee looks for students who have been successful in leadership positions, are passionate about social issues and challenge their peers intellectually. 

Most of all, they want students who will be change-makers. 

Taxali wrote her Johnson application essay about the benefits of musical therapy, and Stankewich wrote about the limitations of our education system. These young women wrote about different interests and find their purpose in different fields, yet all are committed to the success and evolution of Washington and Lee.