An open letter to Shawn Johnson:
Hey kiddo, it’s not good that you have to give up a career that you’re so good at when you’re barely out of your teens, but we both know that gymnastics is a game for the young. So sorry to hear that your knee won’t let you continue competing at the Olympic level, but somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last from you.
Anyway, I read that you’re examining your options, including the possibility of college.
Do the college thing, kid. The time is now and it won’t get any easier later on. No, you don’t “need” college in the sense that others have to attend to lift themselves up to a higher career—but, college will round you out in many ways, give you more insight into life, and give you a bit of a break from your very public career.
No doubt you’re going to hear from lots of colleges, and will have your pick of places to study. You seem to be exactly what most colleges would love to have—an energetic, determined, intelligent young woman. Never mind that you’re also wealthy and famous—if you were nobody, you’d still be somebody.
Anyway, here is more of my unsolicited advice: I think you should study journalism and either business or English, and minor in Spanish, at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids.
Well, for one thing, it’s Iowa. As an Iowan yourself, you understand that this state might not be heaven, but it can be welcoming and embracing. It’s easy, in Iowa, to find people who will care about you and help you discover yourself.
That genuine Iowa niceness is boosted at MMU by its traditions. We’re a practical university, a place where people train for careers, but with a strong liberal arts flavor. We like to think we’re educating the whole person, and not just preparing a good future employee.
You, as a person who can open many doors, need to engage in your mind at a place that will embrace you, but also put you in the same boat as everybody else.
That’s another reason to consider MMU—because it’s not the Ivy League. You don’t need to attend Harvard to open doors. You need to study at a place where you can learn deeply, sure, but also be out of the limelight for a while.
I think MMU is that kind of place. If you studied at MMU, you’d be close to family and friends, but not too close. Cedar Rapids is small to a young lady from Des Moines, but we’re not Dubuque or Waverly—you’d still have all of the diversions that a Midwestern city offers, although, granted, in the setting of a small Iowa town.
Again, that might be a refreshing change.
Anyway, I realize this is an incredible long shot. So, assuming you might attend Northwestern or UC Berkeley or some other more nationally-ranked school, I still think J-School might be a good move for you. After all, it’s likely you’ll engage in some form of media career. By studying journalism, you’ll learn more of the law and history governing media, stuff that you’ll want to know. In addition, if the journalism school you attend is anything like MMU, you’ll become a better writer—and being able to write for yourself, as well as express yourself well, are keys for your future.
In any case, if you study journalism while aiming for a future media career, combine that with something else. My suggestion is English because a sense of narrative, being grounded in classic stories and classic story telling and, again, advanced writing skills will be invaluable to you.
Business, too, is a good choice—as a young woman of means, you need to understand how business woks. Even if the only company you ever run is “Shawn Johnson, Inc.,” you’ll control and need to rationally deploy assets in a way that benefits you (and, I hope, the world).
As for a Spanish minor, love or hate the reality, it’s America’s second language—and as a primary, natural first language, it’s as global and widespread as English. You open up all kinds of new avenues for yourself if you can speak Spanish. Finally, study Spanish because fluency in a second language simply gives you a deeper and better understanding of English—you have to tune in to and understand the structure of language itself in order to learn a second tongue, and in studying Spanish, you’re really vastly improving your facility in English.
Sorry to hear about your knee. And I would have loved to see you return to compete in the Olympics in London. Along with all Iowa, I cheered you in China, and I’m anxious to see where your life will take you.
And remember, even if you don’t go to MMU, think journalism plus—journalism as a major with a second major and a minor in some language other than English—wherever your academic ambitions take you.
Finally, you probably don’t need it from me, but you are facing your own adversities—an unwanted life change that is tough even for a fortunate young woman such as you. Good luck, kiddo. And thanks, on behalf of all Iowa, for the pride we’re already felt in one of our state’s favorite daughters.