Johnson details how his college years shaped him into a student leader in this motivational memoir.
When the New Jerseyan author arrived at Marist College in upstate New York in 2009, he was a shy, anxious, pessimistic freshman who wouldn’t have struck many people as student-government material. He had, in fact, unsuccessfully run for office several times in high school. Even so, Johnson writes, he knew that he wanted to be a member of the Marist student government from the first moment he saw the student-body president give a presentation: “My ears perked up once again as the regal figure before the mic promised that ‘someone in this room’ would, one day, take up his mantle as the chief representative of the student body.” The book chronicles Johnson’s four-year rise through the college’s Student Government Association, during which time he reinvented himself as a confident, ambitious, and outgoing campus personality. Through successes, disappointments, and local crises (such as Hurricane Sandy), Johnson transformed into a true leader, going on to pursue a career in local government in Montville Township, New Jersey, following his 2013 graduation. This memoir also serves as a manual on how to become a better leader, as each chapter of Johnson’s story concludes with a “Lessons Learned” section regarding each experience that he describes (“I can certainly say that my sophomore term was the most transformative period of my undergraduate career”). The author then offers Leadership Profile Exercises, which he encourages readers to complete in order to better fulfill their own leadership potential.
Johnson’s account of the convoluted 2011 class elections is oddly compelling from a procedural perspective. Also, his unflaggingly optimistic tone makes him a pleasant narrator. However, he’s not always a captivating one. Although his experiences in student government were surely influential on his own personal development, nothing in his accounts of life in college or afterward is terribly exciting. The reading experience is akin to having someone take you on a tour of a college campus that you didn’t go to yourself; you can tell that they’re excited and nostalgic about it—but you’re not. Even so, one could still imagine a book like this possessing a certain precocious charm, but this narrative instead feels more like an extended personal essay for a law school application, with prose that often seems overwrought. The text’s relentless self-seriousness also doesn’t help matters. For example, for those readers who may be wondering why the 20-something author didn’t wait a bit longer to pen his memoirs, the author front-loads this retort: “the sands of time...wipe away a certain emotional edge that holds the finer details in which one might find underlying motivations for certain decisions and courses of action.” That said, he doesn’t recount any decisions or courses of action that really require very much in the way of explanation. The genre of leadership memoirs is vast and deep, and readers looking for tips will be able to find more experienced and accomplished guides.
A solipsistic memoir of student government service.