Tragedy and triumph: Senior overcomes difficulties through love, support, determination

“Watching my dad get shot and die in front of me when I was three still traumatized me because I didn’t have him growing up. I never had a dad to throw a ball with, never had a dad to talk about girls with, it’s just always been me and my grandma.”

Senior Deion Johnson experienced a difficult life from the start, but he has found a way to succeed by relying on people who love him and pushing himself to try new things. After his dad was killed when he was little, his grandmother took him in and raised him as her own.

“My grandma has been through some of the toughest situations out there,” Deion said. “She had to put her son in a six foot grave.”

Despite his grandmother’s hardships, she continued to push Deion to live life to the fullest and to succeed.

“My grandma is my biggest supporter I’ve had in my life,” Deion said. “She always told me to never give up and to keep going and to get everything I want out of life. That’s one strong, independent woman right there.”

Deion’s grandma continues to encourage him despite their shared loss and the pain that she has endured.

“She continues to strive to make sure I do the right things,” Deion said. “It hurts because she sees my dad in me all the time and it hurts her, but she loves me to death. I can feel the pain in her voice sometimes and she doesn’t feel like doing it. It’s all out of love, though, and that’s why I can’t let her down.”

Deion’s grandmother Barbara Martin said she is proud of him and has enjoyed watching him grow and develop into the young man he is today. She is also excited to see what the future holds for him and knows that the difficulties he has faced will help him be that much stronger in the future.

“I am proud of Deion because he tries to make the right decisions as a young man and I am proud that he was able to get into one of the universities that he wanted to get into,” Martin said. “He has made my life worth living because I have him to love as my child.”

Deion’s expectation upon entering high school was to focus on athletics and play basketball and baseball, never really thinking he would make it through the entire IB program. He did not see himself as the type of kid who could complete the program.

“I used to be really prideful and I used to always talk smack,” Deion said. “The IB experience has helped me look at things the right way. People who look at me now can see that I definitely changed my character once I hit my second semester of my junior year.”

Deion enjoys setting the bar high for others who will come after him and appreciates what he has been able to take away from the programs he has been involved with at Bryan High.

“I know not many African Americans have done the IB program and that was a motivating factor for me to keep going. I told myself I could do it, and I wanted others to see that they could do it too,” Deion said. “The work we have done in IB and the life lessons I have learned from my teachers have made me become a better man.”

Teachers have also seen the hard work Deion has put in over the years and have watched him form relationships with others that have enriched both his life and theirs.

“When Deion first began in the IB program, he was unsure of himself and did not think he fit in with the other students,” English teacher Lisa Prejean said. “Since then, I have seen his confidence grow and develop, which also sparked his ambitions. He is more goal-oriented and focused on his future.”

The relationships Deion has developed helped break down stereotypes he had formed over the years and open a whole new world of possibilities for him.

“Making connections with people like Trey, Evan, Shannon, and those types of people was one of the best parts of IB,” Deion said. “They are more than what some people would call ‘geeks’;  they have hearts and are nice people you can have conversations with.”

  Through Deion’s relationship with classmate Shannon Keyser, he has seen that there is a depth to people that goes far beyond first impressions.

“Shannon and I go back and forth all the time in history about wonderful things,” Deion said. “She listens to my side and I listen to her side. You can’t ever judge a book by its cover. Don’t look at someone and think ‘oh my gosh, why would I want to talk to them’. If you actually open that book and read it, you will find that people are far more interesting than you initially think.”

Even though Deion struggled and sometimes wanted to drop out of the IB program, he credits classmates like Wayland Moody for pushing him and making him realize that he was having fun and that his senior year and everything involved with IB was the most fun part of his life.

“Deion is a good person,” Wayland said “He has gotten a lot better with his work ethic, transitioning to IB has helped him a lot when it comes to his school work.”

Since Deion’s background and experiences are different from many of his classmates, his teachers see this as a great asset to discussion since he is able to provide a unique perspective on topics.

“Deion always maintains engagement in classroom discussions,” Prejean said. “He analyzes situations from a different perspective, and over the last two years, he has matured into an introspective, contemplative person who sees the world through a much broader lens.”

Rebecca Dominy, the theory of knowledge teacher, sees how Deion has contributed to the classroom as well as her own life.

“Students don’t always realize the impact they have on their teachers,” Dominy said. “Each student I have taught has impacted my life in some way, and Deion is no exception. His passion for life and the way he embraces those around him, helping them feel comfortable is beautiful.”

Deion recognizes the impact his teachers have had on his life too and cannot imagine what his life would be like without their influence.

“Mrs. Prejean has been a big influence on my life,” Deion said. “When I first met her my 11th grade year I really didn’t connect with her, but I realized quickly that she is a role model for me. Mrs. Dominy has also played a key part in my life in making me into the man I am today. There’s nothing I could do without those two ladies and my grandma.”

Deion not only excels in the classroom, but also on the baseball field, having played since he was 4-years-old. He enjoys the action of the outfield and believes that to be successful in baseball, players need to commit and connect with their teammates. Baseball coach James Dillard recognizes Deion’s ability to lead by example and how positive he is while always lifting his teammates up.

“He leads the team and keeps everyone motivated and never stops trying,” teammate Reid Russ said. “No matter how much adversity you may face, you have to keep going.”

Deion’s coach admires how he has developed as a player and a young man over the years and looks to him as a leader on the team.

“Deion has grown up, just like a lot of our players have,” Dillard said. “He’s accepted his role on the baseball team and rolls with it really well. He’s a take-charge kind of player, where he takes responsibility for his actions and the rest of the team’s actions and that’s huge for Deion.”

During his junior year, Deion thought Evan Pope and Trey Weltens were just “geeks” and couldn’t imagine being a part of theatre, but Evan encouraged Deion to give it a try, and Deion fell in love with the program.

“When I heard that Deion was getting involved with theatre, I thought he was finally realizing his potential to things other than sports,” Evan said. “I think that he was meant to do theatre.”

Deion’s first performance was a reading at a museum in College Station for 9/11. This was the first time he had performed anything in front of an audience and it only fed his hunger to be on stage.
“The play was pretty deep,” Deion said. “We told a story about the day the Towers fell, and a lot of people felt a connection to that. People came up to me after the event and told me I did an amazing job which made me feel proud that I was a part of that moment.”

Deion felt he had a key part in tugging at the heartstrings of the audience and making them feel what life was like on that day which gave him a way to connect to others.

“Theatre is one of the hardest things someone could ever do,” Deion said. “Putting yourself out there in front of people is always difficult because if you mess up you could look like a goofball. It also teaches you a lot of strength of character. When I first went on stage, I was very nervous but I told myself that ‘I got this,’ I’ve trained for this, I’ve worked my tail off for this. It’s like a championship game, the game is on the line, you just put in the work you’ve done.”
Deion’s first on stage performance was as the commander-in-chief elf in “Elf Tales” during the theatre’s production at The Queen Theatre before “A Christmas Carol.”

“Hearing people laugh made me realize that I could do this acting thing and it was fun,” Deion said. “It was something that surprised me and I want to continue doing it.”

Through his love of acting, theatre has helped him learn more about himself and how to accept more people in his life.

“Deion has become a lot more open to accepting people,” Evan said. “He has been able to become one with the cast pretty easily because he is such a friendly guy.”

Deion’s interest in theater created a way to get to know people and show his personality beyond the jokester and athlete that are outwardly apparent.

“Deion is a determined guy with a good heart,” Evan said. “He’s just an all-around good man.”

Theatre director Jacob Justice saw that Deion had a natural talent with an ability to be on stage. He thought that Deion brought a lot to their shows and added to the comradery of the cast.

“Deion has done a great job this year,” Justice said. “Any time that you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, it can lead to some really great stuff. I have been really proud of him; he has juggled it all and has done very well with it.”

Deion’s peers appreciate his approach to life and how he takes everything in stride no matter the challenges set before him.

“Working with Deion is always fun,” Evan said. “Nine out of ten times he would have an infectiously positive attitude. It would always be so contagious. His positive attitude rubbed off on others, and if someone was having trouble working on a dance or with their lines he would help them.”

The fine arts department put on the musical Hairspray and Deion was encouraged to try out. Though he was nervous about it, he decided the day of tryouts to go for it and was cast as Duane.

“I will never forget opening night,” Deion said. “The curtains opened and there were all these people out there. We did our first song and everyone started clapping and cheering. The applause was breathtaking; I wish that I could do it again.”

Deion looks back on “Hairspray” as an experience that could never be replicated.

“Having members of the audience come up to me after the show to tell me that they loved the musical and seeing me in it was the best part of all of it,” Deion said. “That I was like a spark on the stage was one of my best memories of the year.”

Deion’s teachers have enjoyed watching him expand his horizons and achieve things he never thought possible.

“I started to tear up watching Deion in the musical,” Dominy said. “It really didn’t have anything to do with the actual performance, it was just about him being up there on stage and pushing himself to do new things. I am just so proud of him for leaving his comfort zone and finding something that he enjoys.”

Deion found a love in something that he would not have thought he would be good at or enjoy.

“Look at me now,” Deion said. “I’m a theatre kid and I used to think of myself as never being that because it was weird, but now I love it.”

Deion said that he feels blessed and honored to get into Texas A&M University and plans to major in sports management and minor in theatre or construction.

“It means a lot to me to get into A&M,” Deion said. “Knowing where I come from and how I will be the first one to get through college is important to me. It makes me feel humble and pushes me to keep grinding.”

Deion currently works at the Boys and Girls Club and plans to continue this summer and while he is at A&M because it is important to him to give back to the community.

“The kid’s that come to the Boys and Girls Club look up to people like me at the club, and I want them to know that they got this,” Deion said. “I don’t want anyone to ever tell them that they can’t do something. If they only think they have themselves, they don’t. I want them to know that there are people out there that will support them, that’s one of the things that I have found out over the last two years.”

He also said that he has seen the kids that go to the club deal with peer pressure over the years. He understands peer pressure and how it can lead someone to make bad choices, so he wants the kids to know that they should not worry about going to parties and trying to be cool and instead focus on what they want in the future.

“I try to use my past to strengthen what I want to do with my life,” Deion said. “I want to be a role model to kids which is why I work at the Boys and Girls Club. Those kids don’t have father figures or even parents in their lives.”

Deion has shown the people around him that he is not just a statistic and that others with the same background can do better for themselves if they allow others in to help.

“A lot of kids would’ve used the events of Deion’s past as an excuse for their choices and their life,” Dominy said, “but not Deion. He has not let his experiences define who he is but instead has used them to fuel his hopes and dreams. I’m excited to see what Deion does in the future because I am already so proud of the man he is becoming right now.”

In everything Deion does, he finds friends and mentors that help him and keep him on the right path. 

“Everything that happened with my dad has taught me that you can’t hang out with the wrong crowd,” Deion said. “Some of my dad’s actions in high school led to his demise and how he got shot. It’s important to stay with the right crowd and keep your head on the right.”