May 23, 2013 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

King’s Social Work graduate Shawn Johnston ’13 is living proof that anything is possible with the support and guidance of others. Recognized at the London Council for Adult Education’s 24th Annual Adult Learner Awards on May 9, Johnston shared his difficult journey growing up and explained how the decision to go back to school changed his life forever.

At the age of 17, Johnston moved to Winnipeg from the Couchiching First Nation reserve in Fort Frances, Ontario.  Johnston battled drug addiction for almost 15 years before successfully going through rehabilitation treatment.  He then enrolled in a two year diploma program for social service worker at Lambton College, Sarnia.

Once Johnston completed Lambton’s program, he transitioned to university and enrolled in second year of King’s Bachelor of Social Work.  Johnston’s courage to go back to school prompted him to share his story with others, in hopes that he can offer encouragement to those who have lost faith.

Johnston quickly became involved with Western’s First Nations Student Association, and often spoke at conferences and presentations on his experience adjusting to school as an adult learner.  He knew his story would inspire others to go after their dreams, regardless of what challenges they may face.

“King’s helped me develop so many skills and gave me the ability to lead and help others as a role model,” says Johnston.  “My professors were so supportive and accommodating throughout my events and conferences, and it’s because of this support that I was able to complete my studies while sharing my story with many others.  My experience at King’s helped me become the person I am today.”

Western’s Director of First Nations Studies, Dr. Susan Hill, presented the award on behalf of Western University Student Success Centre.  One of Johnston’s adamant supporters, Hill defined Johnston as the true essence of a social worker; someone who is truly giving of oneself and strives to make a difference in the lives of others.

“Shawn is one of the most gifted people I have ever worked with.  He embodies the values of his people and culture, and he has received many accomplishments,” Hill noted in her speech.  “He has an adherence to his culture values and has always gone back to them, even after going through difficult times.”

Johnston is now ready to start his next journey at Wilfred Laurier University in the Master of Social Work Aboriginal Field of Study program.  After graduation, he hopes to encourage self-determination and cultural preservation to troubled youth in First Nation communities.

Hill admires Johnston for his ability to overcome the obstacles in his life, and described him as an inspirational individual who represents qualities of truth, honesty, respect, bravery, humility, and most importantly, the gift of love.

“Love emanates from him,” says Hill.  “Whether it’s through his family, culture, education or the natural world, it’s a beautiful gift he carries with him wherever he goes.”

First initiated in 1990 to honour the work of Mary Gee, long-time Executive Secretary of the London Council for Adult Education, the Adult Learner Awards recognizes and acknowledges the efforts and contributions of learners for the enhancement of their lives through adult education.

For more information on King’s School of Social Work, please visit

For more information or to view pictures from the Adult Learner Awards, please visit