GM's Vice President G. Johnson speaks to Glenville’s graduates

James W. Wade III | 6/3/2014, 8:55 p.m.
A true Clevelander, Johnson talks about what it would take to see the Cleveland Browns win.
General Motors Vice President Gerald Johnson took time to enjoy some sites in his hometown Cleveland, Ohio before being the keynote speaker at Glenville. Photo by James W. Wade III

General Motors Vice President Gerald Johnson came back home to address the 2014 graduating class of Glenville High School. Johnson who grew up off East 116th street says he will never forget his Cleveland ties.

Johnson spoke to the graduates about choices, as this is the key to life. He said, “Like the choices that allowed you to sit here tonight with a cap and gown and graduate. You made the choice, that 200 days a year for the last four years to get up and come do what it takes to sit here at the end of four years. My job is just to point out that life is made up of those kinds of choices,” he shared with Glenville’s 2014 graduating class.

Prior to speaking to the graduating class, Johnson met with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and sat down with this reporter. Johnson spoke of his early days at Alexander Hamilton where he feels his life changed. At his ninth grade graduation they notified him he had been awarded a Better Chance Scholarship to go to Hawken School, the prestigious private institution in Gates Mills.

Johnson, however, really wanted to be a John F. Kennedy Eagle. While talking to me, a JFK Eagle, he told me about his passion to attend there.

“I cried, I didn't want to go. I wanted to go to John F. Kennedy with my friends, the kids that I had come to know and in an environment I was familiar with." he said.

" And let's be frank, I was a Black kid, I'd be only one of six in my class. It wasn't the idea that I had in mind, I will say that,” he continued.

Going to Hawken's helped develop and challenge him into greater heights and reach goals and dreams he started to have.

He now has more than 74,000 workers under him in his role as North America Manufacturing Vice President.

His employees covers 56 facilities including assembly, stamping, powertrain and component operations in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

While having a few laughs he will be the first to say, he came a long way, but still have a long way to go.

His father help design his work ethics and he told me about what he had to do growing up. His father would have him up early each morning.

"You know my first job was my own paper route around 120th and Princeton down the street from John Adams High School. My dad was big on hard work. He worked for the Plain Dealer , so of course, it was inevitable that my brother and I would have paper routes as soon as we were old enough. As much as I hated getting up at 4:30-5 in the morning, it was actually a precursor to what I would do for the rest of my life. At GM you get up at 5 in the morning and your day starts at 6,” Johnson shared.

Johnson received an intriguing offer in the mail from the General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich., now known as Kettering University. At first he thought it might be a scholarship offer, but it turned out to be even better. GMI offered a plan whereby a student attended school for three months, then worked in a GM plant for three months, alternating until a degree is attained, along with tons of experience and a leg up on a GM job.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in Industrial Administration, he moved to a plant in Grand Blanc, Mich. This was another huge choice in his life. He then worked in management positions at a number of plants, including the Parma metal stamping plant, and won a company fellowship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his master's degree.

While doing all this work he found time to meet and marry, Lynn, his wife and mother of his seven children. Meeting was something they both cherish. She is a Cleveland resident ,who graduated from East High.

Doris Redic of Glenville, a friend of Lynn's mother Geneva Duncan, over a year ago extended the invitation to Johnson to speak at Glenville.

A true Clevelander, Johnson talks about what it would take to see the Cleveland Browns win.

Another highlight of the Glenville graduation was to have one of the Call & Post’s former interns Marshay Wilson speak , as the class valedictorian. She will be attending Kent State University to major in Mass Communication. Wilson a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society delivered a moving speech.