Monique Johnson, a government major from Brooklyn, New York, with plans to pursue law school after graduation, has been named the senior class speaker for Lawrence University’s June 9 Commencement.

Among the youngest members of the 2024 graduating class, Johnson arrived at Lawrence as a Posse Scholar in the fall of 2020 at the age of 16—she doubled up her sophomore and junior years of high school. With the COVID-19 pandemic in full effect, it was a lot to take in for Johnson, a Caribbean-American and first-generation college student leaving the familiarity of New York City for a small liberal arts college 1,000 miles from home.

She found at Lawrence a community that allowed her to thrive.

“Lawrence became the home I never knew I needed,” Johnson said. “I ended up spending my entire junior year here, including winter break, spring break, summer. I got to study abroad in Rome. I got to meet amazing people and make lifelong relationships whether that be professional relationships or just with my peers. I met my best friend here. All those things—professionally, socially, academically—all matched. It was everything that I was looking for in a university.”

See details of 2024 Commencement weekend

Johnson will share that journey when she addresses her classmates, families, and the Lawrence community at Commencement, set for 10 a.m. Sunday, June 9. She was one of 13 members of the graduating class who submitted speeches for consideration to be senior class speaker. She was chosen by a committee of faculty and staff.

During her time at Lawrence, Johnson served as treasurer of Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC), worked for two and a half years as a Community Advisor in Residential Education, was a member of Beta Psi Nu, Black Student Union (BSU), and African and Caribbean Union (ACU), and was a leader on the LU Cheer Team. 

It was the New York-based Posse Foundation that initially put Lawrence on Johnson’s radar. Lawrence has partnered with Posse since 2007—the nonprofit organization assesses and develops high school students from diverse backgrounds who show leadership potential. After being nominated for a Posse scholarship, Johnson went through six months of preparation, including multiple interviews. Among the Posse partner colleges, she put Lawrence as her No. 1 choice even though the pandemic kept her from partaking in an in-person visit. For that, much credit goes to Kate Zoromski, Lawrence’s associate dean of academic success and a mentor to Posse 14.

“Kate Zoromski came into our meetings in our pre-collegiate training, and the level of comfort that she brought in was amazing—that’s her aura,” Johnson said. “I thought, if everyone else at Lawrence is like this one person, this is going to be an absolutely amazing experience.”

Zoromski was equally impressed with Johnson, noting how prepared she was and how focused she was on building her future.

“She asked me questions most first-years don’t even think about until sophomore or junior year,” Zoromski said. 

That has continued through Johnson’s four years on campus. She has shown an impressive level of determination and conscientiousness, with exceptional problem-solving skills.

“When she sets her sights on a goal, stand back because nothing is going to stand in her way,” Zoromski said.

Johnson and Zoromski have developed a tight bond.

“We’ve shared some tears, but we’ve also laughed until we cried,” Zoromski said. “She calls me Mama Kate, and she’s always the first to text me birthday and Mother’s Day wishes. I feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know her.”

After Commencement, Johnson is turning her attention to the next step—law school. She will take a gap year to study for and take her LSAT exam, then apply to law schools for enrollment in fall of 2025, with her eye on being a practicing attorney by age 24. Her focus is on criminal defense.

“I couldn’t be prouder of all her achievements at Lawrence—in and out of the classroom,” Zoromski said. “But I’m perhaps most proud of how she is not deterred by challenges that get in her way. I have no doubt Mo is leaving this campus with what she needs to be successful in her life after Lawrence. Keep your eyes on Mo. She’s brilliant and resourceful, and she’s got a bright future ahead of her.”