Changing Your Circumstances

Toni Johnson '16 (EMBA)

Monday, May 2, 2016

On a May day in 2015, Toni Johnson ’16 (EMBA) was sitting among her graduating classmates at Gwynedd Mercy University, when James Maguire took the podium to deliver the commencement address. The founder and chairman of Philadelphia Consolidated Holding Corporation, President of the Maguire Foundation, and loyal SJU alumnus spoke of his love of Catholic education, his six steps to success (outlined in his book, Just Show Up Every Day), and his affection for the Jesuits.

"The race in life is not always for the swift,” Maguire said to the graduates, “But to those who keep on running: keep on running.”

Maguire’s words and his passion for Jesuit education resonated with Toni — so much so, in fact, that she called Saint Joseph’s that same evening to inquire about the Executive Master’s of Business Administration program (EMBA). By that Friday, her application was complete, her books purchased, and she was sitting in her first class on Hawk Hill.

“It just felt like God had everything in line here, that this was my path,” says the single mother of six children (four of whom still live at home).

On top of juggling the demands of work, family and the rigorous EMBA curriculum, Johnson struggled with serious health issues, including an ongoing battle with Lupus, throughout the year. It was a rough road, but she took Maguire’s advice to heart and continued to push forward.

“I want to be a role model to my children,” she says. “I want to show them that no matter where you are in life, no matter what you face, you can change your circumstances.”

Johnson first began changing her circumstances in 2008, when she moved back to the Philadelphia area after her divorce to pursue her passions: completing her education, cooking and serving others.

While earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration, she started a food truck that offered Asian and Jamaican fusion cuisine. A seasoned chef who had run restaurants in Florida and Jamaica, Johnson loved serving customers from the truck, and every Monday night, she took it to feed the homeless.

In 2012, she began working with Philabundance as a chef in a 200 bed woman and children’s shelter, overseeing 30, 000 meals monthly. Shortly thereafter she started working a second job as a counselor with Resources for Human Development and continued running the food truck, until she enrolled at SJU.

“I knew I would have to sacrifice some things to complete this intense 20-month program,” says Johnson, “but I also know that when I earn my degree, it will help me move forward and eventually I’ll have enough resources to do even more. It’s like the Jesuits say, it’s all about the greater good.”

Though, she’s not headed back to the food truck just yet. After graduation, Johnson’s sights are set on a job in human resources and a Ph.D. in psychology. In either role, she’ll be focused on helping others using the education she’s received.

 “SJU has opened up a world of opportunities for me so I can find the right match for my professional and personal goals,” says Johnson.

Just before the EMBA’s international residency in Germany this past March, Johnson’s health improved considerably and she was able to attend the trip with her doctor’s blessing.

“Looking back, I don’t know how I did it,” she says with a smile. “I just keep on running.”





Expand this section