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Harvard junior Travis Allen Johnson ’24 was awarded the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, an award dedicated to inspiring and supporting Americans from diverse backgrounds to public service, according to a Wednesday press release.
According to the scholarship’s website, Johnson will be awarded up to $30,000 in funding for postgraduate studies, along with leadership training, career counseling, and special employment opportunities within the federal government. Aside from Johnson, 61 other students across the U.S. were also awarded the honor for 2023.
Johnson, a Government concentrator in Winthrop House, said he has long been inspired to seek the scholarship and a law degree in order to address discrimination in the legal system.
“I come from a place where so many members of my community are marginalized, and I’ve seen the impacts of the criminal legal system and how that is targeted at low-income Black individuals,” said Johnson. “For me, it’s always been about trying to use my education to help combat that.”
Johnson served alongside LyLena D. Estabine ’24 as inaugural co-president of the Harvard Undergraduate Association — Harvard’s newly formed student government body — a position he credits with granting him a unique perspective on leadership and perseverance.
“I think as a result of my time co-leading the HUA in its infancy, it really allowed me to understand the ins and outs of leadership — the complexities of leadership — but also the way in which good leadership can result in incredible things happening,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he was eating dinner with Estabine when he got the call that he had been selected for the honor. He subsequently received congratulatory emails from University President Lawrence S. Bacow, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay, and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.
“I was just so excited — super excited — because this is really something that I care a lot about,” Johnson said.
Though Johnson said the application process included “by far the most difficult interview” he’s been through, he credited his previous work experiences at the Democratic National Committee and multinational law firm Latham and Watkins for broadening his horizons and strengthening his appeal as a candidate.
“I was also able to use that as an opportunity to say, ‘There are so many incredibly talented lawyers who go to big law rather than using their time and efforts to help marginalized individuals,’” Johnson said of his experience at Lathem and Watkins.
“I respect that choice, but it also instilled in me a desire to not want to do that — instilled in me a desire to want to go back to the local level and start as a lawyer there,” he added.
Moving forward, Johnson said he hopes his achievements can serve to inspire others with backgrounds similar to his.
“People don’t associate my town with great things, and so I do hope that me winning and being awarded the Truman Scholarship can show other like-minded individuals that it’s not about where you come from,” Johnson said. “You can really achieve great things, and the only limitations are the ones you place on yourself.”
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