Harvard student with dreams to change the world, plans to use Truman Scholarship to honor S.C. roots

Travis Allen Johnson is a junior studying government and political science at Harvard University.
Travis Allen Johnson is a junior studying government and political science at Harvard University.(Travis Allen Johnson)
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 3:46 PM EDT
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SUMTER, S.C. (WIS) - Sumter native Travis Allen Johnson wants to change the world, and getting an education at one of the country’s most prestigious universities is only the beginning of his journey.

Recently, the junior studying government and political science at Harvard University was one of the 62 people chosen to be part of the 2023 cohort of the Truman Scholars where he will represent the state of South Carolina.

“I graduated from Crestwood High School in 2020, actually, and since then I’ve been here at Harvard. Basically the Truman Scholarship- I first heard about it when I was a freshman here. And it is really designed for people who want to pursue careers in public service and are interested in changing the world,” said Johnson, “When I first heard about it, I was like, Wow, I think this really resonates with what I care about.”

The Truman Scholarship is awarded to those interested in public service by the Truman Foundation.

Named after the 33rd president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, the foundation is an independent federal agency within the White House Complex.

This year, according to a press release, the foundation chose its recipients from 60 institutions nationwide.

“The application was six months long. I started this (the application) back in October and then two weeks ago, I found out the great news that I was selected, which was really an incredible experience,” said Johnson.

Students who apply for the scholarship must be nominated by their university. Johnson said each university can only nominate four students and explained the rigorous application process.

“I submitted my application to the National Foundation, the Truman Foundation, and then about a month after that, I was notified that I was a finalist for this scholarship until March 17th. I had to travel to Atlanta, Georgia for the final interview. Definitely, the hardest interview I’ve ever participated in, but it was a rewarding one.,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s passion for public service traces back to his humble upbringing in Sumter. Johnson said his desire of becoming a criminal lawyer in the future comes from seeing how public service can impact people’s lives.

“I’ve seen the prevalent school-to-prison pipeline in our community where so many young individuals, they funnel straight after graduating high school. They go right into the prison system. And in my opinion, right now, our criminal justice system is one that is extremely inequitable and we oftentimes place a penalty on poverty, whereas people who are poor and can’t afford legal representation, they get the short end of the stick,” Johnson said.

Upon his graduation from Crestwood High, Johnson chose Harvard University to begin his journey into public service to academically challenge himself.

His journey at the university allowed him to secure his decision in being involved in public service.

“Coming to Harvard really showed me why I care about public service because it’s about giving back to the place that has shaped who I am. And so for me, I have seen so many things in our community or in our state that I think need to be addressed,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that his goal is to contribute and get back to the place he calls home while creating a more equitable and just society.

Travis Johnson alongside his family.
Travis Johnson alongside his family.(Travis Johnson)

“I hope in life to be able to ensure that those barriers that exist are no longer there and people can succeed no matter where they come from,” he added.

As a Truman scholar, Johnson said he will be granted $30,000 to go toward graduate school. Upon graduation, Johnson plans to attend Harvard Law School, where he feels he will be given the tools to successfully begin his career in law.

“I think as a result of attending a school like Harvard when I become a lawyer and I when I went to fight the criminal justice system and ultimately change it, I think I’ll be able to do that more because of the educational background that I have,” said Johnson.

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