Some of Johnson’s platforms:
- Lobby for an acceptable use policy for iPads and computers in the classroom, so students can use online textbooks and take notes in class.
- Have a student position on the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce: “It would be a non-voting position, but it would do a better job of connecting the university with the community, and it would help us to understand everything that goes on in the Chamber of Commerce,” Johnson says.
- Start an on-campus bike rental: “Lawrence is a really bike-friendly community, and it’s a huge part of the culture at the university, and I think that would help students ... have access to an alternative transportation, especially with rising gas prices.”
Michael Wade Smith remembers meeting Libby Johnson: It was the launch of college four years ago, and both were handing out fliers for their Student Senate campaigns.
As Wade Smith eyed Johnson, he noticed her pamphlets were wrapped around pieces of candy.
“I was handing out my fliers, and I was jealous I didn’t have candy attached to mine,” Wade Smith said.
Johnson scrawled chalk messages onto sidewalks and made posters that year. She won her campaign. She has served on KU Senate ever since. This past April she was voted student body president, a position she has worked hard to attain.
“There were very few days from the beginning of November to the end of April where she wasn’t pulling close to all-nighters,” Wade Smith said. “Libby is an academic, too, and she wanted to make sure she was doing well in all of her classes. She would do a full day’s worth of campaign work and then start studying.”
That didn’t leave Johnson much time for anything else. But she loves to be busy. In high school she was vice president of her senior class and active in soccer and cross country. She was also in the gifted program, started a recycling group, and played and taught piano.
Both of her parents are university professors — her mother teaches math at Baker University, and her father teaches chemistry at KU — so education has always been important.
Growing up, Johnson would often pop in to see her dad, Carey Johnson, at his office in KU.
“I love Lawrence,” Johnson said. “I’ve grown up around KU all of my life, going to my dad’s office and basketball games. There’s always something happening, so I was always out seeing something or exploring.”
As a child, she made high grades and was a big reader. She competed in reading contests sponsored by the Lawrence Public Library. Her favorite books included “The Great Gatsby,” “The Giver” and novels by Virginia Woolf. Books that have recently graced Johnson’s bookshelf are “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell and “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer. The latter is about cognitive neuroscience, which reflects Johnson’s current interests; she is majoring in both psychology and biology.
As a child, Johnson would trek through her large yard, looking for bugs and animals. She loves nature and would frequently go on hikes to see what she could find.
Johnson did much of her exploring in Lawrence. She attended Lawrence High School and spent her youth running around Mass Street and rooting for the Jayhawks.
Her family moved to Würzburg, Germany, during her junior year of high school. She learned to speak German by plunging into the culture.
“She is someone who wants to know everything,” said Mary Klayder, associate director of undergraduate studies. “She likes to really understand all the pieces.”
Johnson gives Lawrence credit for shaping her personality. But there’s another source of influence: her grandfather, William Johnson, who died more than a year ago.
“If he walked through this restaurant right now, he would stop and take 10 minutes to talk to every single individual in here and learn about their life,” said Johnson during an interview at Aimee’s Coffee House on Mass. “(He would talk) with every waiter or waitress when we went to a restaurant. We knew we were going to be embarrassed because he was going to have a conversation with them and ask them about their lives.”
Johnson’s grandfather loved people. She says watching him helped influence her own interactions with others. During her campaigns she talked to hundreds of students. When she was helping Wade Smith with his campaign in 2009, she recruited more than 100 students.
“I just didn’t know what to do with them,” Wade Smith says.
Johnson initiates a conversation with new people, said Klayder, who traveled to Costa Rica with Johnson for a study-abroad session last winter.
“She engages with everyone,” Klayder says. “There was not a single person she didn’t have an interaction with. ... And it’s not in a phony way. It’s very real.”
After KU, Johnson sees herself applying for the Peace Corps or Teach for America. For now she is devoting her summer to her 20-plus platform issues.
“The summer is a really important time because it’s the time to set down a foundation so that when the school year gets here, we can hit the ground running,” Johnson says.