Govie from Class of 1999 will be 33rd Commencement Speaker

May 4, 2022

Hartsville, SC - The South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics (GSSM) is delighted to announce that Shontavia Johnson '99, Clemson University’s Associate Vice President for entrepreneurship and innovation and GSSM graduate, will deliver the school's 33rd Commencement speech at the Deloach Center at Coker University in Hartsville, South Carolina on Saturday, May 28, 2022, at 11 AM.  

Johnson is an award-winning lawyer, entrepreneur, and academic. As Clemson’s Associate Vice President, Johnson acts as a connector between students, corporate partners, entrepreneurs, and other universities. Johnson finds herself blooming when she works in areas of inclusive entrepreneurship, law, and culture.  

Johnson is very passionate about helping women of color leverage their knowledge and expertise to build their brands and businesses. She is the proud founder of the Brand and Business Academy, a successful course and community created to help women of color develop their personal brands and turn their big ideas into businesses. The Academy teaches women of color how to become entrepreneurs with a Day One focus on protecting and leveraging intellectual property.  

Johnson's career began with failure—she quit her first job as a lawyer at a prominent law firm less than two years after starting. After quitting, she cut off her hair, ended her long-term relationship, and moved to South Africa for two months. While Johnson was in South Africa, she came to the realization that she needed to find out what she was made to do in order to positively impact other people’s lives. When she returned to the U.S., she got a temporary fellowship as a professor and started her own business. She took a $100,000 pay cut to pursue her dream of making entrepreneurship and intellectual property more accessible. Although her academic career thrived, the business failed. But Johnson failed forward, learned from her missteps, and figured out how to combine full-time academia with entrepreneurship, which led her to where she is today.  

Today, Johnson believes in the power of failing forward and learning by doing.  

She has twice been named one of the Top 40 Young Lawyers in the United States by the American Bar Association and the National Bar Association, and in 2021 she was named one of the 200 Black Women in Tech to Follow on Twitter by a distinguished panel of female African American influencers. Johnson is a Class of 2023 member of South Carolina’s prestigious Liberty Fellowship, which is part of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. 

Johnson has been featured in the L.A. Times, NPR, Black Enterprise, Rolling Stone, and Harvard’s Nieman Lab. As a writer, Johnson has contributed articles to Fortune, The Conversation, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and TIME. 

As a speaker, Johnson has been on the in-person and virtual stages of TEDx, SXSW, Google, Entrepreneur, and the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. She has been interviewed on a number of podcasts, including Hear to Slay with Roxane Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom and New York Magazine’s Nice Try!. 

Johnson loves books, traveling, and Friday movie nights with her husband and three children. The craziest thing she’s ever done is bungee jumping from the highest commercial bungee on the planet. 

GSSM President Mr. Danny Dorsel welcomes the return of Shontavia Johnson to GSSM to give the commencement speech. “Shontavia is an excellent example that there are no limits to what one can accomplish when they commit themselves to a goal and put forth the hard work required to accomplish it.  I’m thankful and proud that GSSM played a part in Shontavia’s journey and I am excited for our community, especially our graduates, to hear her inspiring story,”  

 

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