GAINESVILLE — Growing up in a small village in Costa Rica, Evelyn Johnson didn’t have an understanding of the U.S. armed forces, or military life at all.
But today, it is her goal and her passion to do what she can to support the men and women who serve their country.
Johnson shared her story Wednesday afternoon during the Lanier Technical College GOAL and Rick Perkins Awards Luncheon in Gainesville, where she received the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership.
Amy O’Dell, instructor in the interiors program at the college, received the Rick Perkins Award for Excellence in Technical Instruction.
Johnson and O’Dell will advance to compete at regional levels for these awards, which honor excellence in one student and one teacher in the Technical College System of Georgia.
Johnson said she started working right out of high school in Costa Rica to help support her family.
“Five years ago, I decided to come to the United States to work as an au pair, and my life changed,” she said. “I had the opportunity to live with a family of military officers, which was new to me considering Costa Rica has no armed forces.
“This allowed me to not only learn about, but to love the American military culture.”
Soon after, Johnson would meet her husband, a U.S. Army sergeant in Texas. Upon returning from his second deployment in Iraq, her husband had knee surgery to repair complications from previous injuries.
It was through this process that Johnson found a passion for health care.
“Being married to a former military member, having experience firsthand in his health care needs, and with a deep respect and appreciation for the military and those who have served, I knew I wanted a career in health care,” she said.
“I want a career that can give me the skills and knowledge to get a job at the VA, where veterans just like my husband, who has sacrificed so much for our country and our freedom, deserve the very best health care our country can offer.”
Johnson said Lanier Tech and the technical college system gave her the opportunity to study health care science at a school that is accessible and affordable.
O’Dell echoed Johnson’s sentiments. She applauded the college for all it does to support students at every stage of their life and education and compared what she knows about a technical college education to lessons she’s learned from her two sons.
“Everyone wants and deserves to go their own speed,” she said. “It’s why we offer hybrid, online and face-to-face instruction. It’s why we offer part-time schedules and full-time schedules. It’s why we offer certificates and diplomas and degrees.”
She compared getting an education to her sons learning to ride a bicycle.
“They fell down a lot,” she said. “But the wonderful thing is they got up and they kept trying. I believe this is the same with our adult ed program. Many of our adult education students took a fall in their education, but they’re getting back up and they're trying again.”
Lanier Tech President Ray Perren congratulated the two winners and all the nominees and finalists. He said the remarkable thing about a technical college is students like Johnson don’t come to “find themselves,” they come with a plan in mind and a goal they are determined to accomplish.
Johnson said she believes Lanier Tech has helped her realize her purpose in life.
“Pablo Picasso once said that the meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give it away,” she said. “It has been through the twists and turns of the journey of my life that I have found the true purpose of getting a college education: my desire to help our veterans.
“This is an opportunity I will soon have thanks to the education I’m receiving at a Georgia technical college.”