Two men stroll up Dimmitt hill toward Olsen Student Center, one is tall and Caucasian, with a none-too-recognizable face, the other is African with an all-too-recognizable personality.
“Hey, Paul Johnson!” say a couple of girls as they cross paths with the two. The Caucasian man grimaces in embarrassment as he doesn’t know who the two girls are. The African man turns around to speak to the girl.
“Hey Kaylee, hey Sarah, how’s it going,” he replies. He seems to know these two very well.”We missed you at the MAC event last night,” the girl on the right playfully pouts.
“Hey, I had a lot of homework to do,” Johnson defends himself with a smile.
“Suuuure,” the other girl giggles as she walks away with her friend.
The Caucasian man lifts up his head, “How do you know those two, Paul?”
Before he can answer back, the two are greeted by another person who seems to be good friends with Paul…
This is a daily struggle for anyone who may walk to lunch with Paul Johnson: Big Man on Campus. Very rarely will one find a person on Morningside Campus that does not know the name Paul Johnson. Same goes for the face, the smile, and the laugh, and the personality that go with this character.
His large and attractive personality somewhat contrasts his considerably average-sized and almost standard appearance. At 5’10” with dark skin, dark hair, and dark eyes, one cannot immediately see why so many people are drawn to this figure. Hailing from Nigeria, Johnson is partially known for being the “only Nigerian that [anybody has] ever met,” according to Joshua Doering, the tall man that was walking to lunch with Johnson.
The main reason, though, that Johnson knows so many people in the Morningside College student body is the fact that he holds such a large interest for people. “I’m really interested in people. I like to know more about them… Whenever I meet someone new, I want know where they’re from, what they do, why they believe what they believe…” Johnson explains, “I love diversity.” This love of diversity is why Johnson was quick to make friends his first year at Morningside. “When I first came here, everyone was sort of shy and didn’t really want to talk to new people, but Paul just came right up and talked to me,” Recounts Jackson O’Brien on his first encounter with Johnson.
Johnson is considered unique among the many people on Morningside Campus, which is sometimes attributed to his Nigerian origins, but he himself says that he is different from other Nigerians. “In Nigeria, if there is a person that is older than you and they do something that you know is wrong and you call them out on it… That’s viewed as really disrespectful…” Johnson goes on to explain how that’s something he did a lot back in Nigeria and that was something that would get him in trouble on multiple occasions. “But I feel that here, in America, people are more accepting of that.”
Standing out was not the only struggle that Johnson went through while living in Nigeria, “We were poor, even for a Nigerian family.” Johnson’s father did not have a well-paying job when his family was young. They were so poor that they could not afford to put Johnson through school. As time went on, though, Johnson’s father received a better job in a larger city for him and his family to live in. He began to attend school and even found an opportunity to study in the United States. There, Johnson found a place where he fit in. Well, at least, somewhat better than he did before, “I really like here in America. I mean, I miss my family and friends back in Nigeria, but I feel more at home here.”
One can see evidence of this by simply spending time on the floor where Paul is an RA. Almost every night, there are a number of people hanging out in his room, taking advantage of the “Open door Paulicy” sign on his door frame. Dozens of people come in and out of Johnson’s room in a day, be that to say ‘hi’, socialize, or possibly even meet new people. “I’ve met tons of new people through Paul,” says Doering.
If it isn’t evident already, Johnson has many connections on campus. This has helped him attain certain positions on Morningside’s student government. “Paul’s actually been with me in student government for all three years we’ve been here,” tells O’Brien, “We were both senators our first year hear, the next year, he was Secretary and I was Student Advocate, now I’m President and he’s Student Advocate.”
Even Johnson himself admits to growth while here at the college, “I’m always growing, I’m always trying to be a better person and help make the world a better place.” With that attitude, along with a multitude of friends gained from involvement in various activities, Paul Johnson has truly earned himself the title of Big Man on Campus”. Steve Maraboli once said, “… I would rather have four quarters than 100 pennies,” referring to the number and quality of friends. For Paul Johnson, though, if friends were to be equated to currency, he would be a rich, rich man.