BRIDGETOWN — A Bridgetown-area woman who waited more than 80 years to receive her high school diploma had her “bucket list” wish granted June 28 at the Bridgetown Regional Community School — to a standing ovation.
Walking with a cane and helped to the stage by her grandson, Hazel Johnson received her honorary school-leaving certificate to roaring applause from her 58 fellow graduates in a standing-room-only gymnasium.
The 99-year-old woman from Inglewood has travelled the world and learned several languages, but back in the early 1930s her father couldn’t afford the price of new textbooks and the smartest girl in her Grade 10 class was told she couldn’t go back to school.
“We have a 99-year-old youth here tonight,” said Peter Cromwell, a former member of the Valley school board.
“She’s definitely young at heart. Always has been.”
Teacher Matthew Marshall said Johnson was one of 10 children born to Mary Anne and Jesse Mitchell of Upper Granville, May 15, 1919.
“Hazel is a dedicated Christian and has served her community of Inglewood in many capacities,” said Marshall. “She was a Sunday school teacher for 35 years and served as treasurer for the Inglewood Baptist Church, a Nova Scotia Provincial Heritage Site, for over 40 years, during which time the ‘books were always balanced.’ She remains a deacon of the church to this day.”
Marshall said when Johnson was asked a few years ago if she had any regrets, she said, “I wish I was able to graduate high school.”
The price of textbooks stopped Hazel Johnson from graduating, but that didn't stop her from living a life full of accomplishments. (LAWRENCE POWELL / Annapolis Spectator)
Although it’s unthinkable today, the impediments to education for a young black woman in the 1930s were many. The price of a few books changed the entire course of Johnson’s life.
“Unfortunately, her father could not afford new books,” said Marshall. “He told her she would have to leave school. So, Grade 10 would be the end of her formal learning. She was devastated.”
Marshall said Johnson never stopped learning. She married the love of her life, Samuel Johnson, a soldier, and raised three sons who also became soldiers. The family moved to Germany in 1959, something Marshall described as quite a shock after living in rural Nova Scotia.
“She learned to speak German and learned some of the languages of the other countries she travelled to just so she could be courteous,” Marshall said.
The Johnsons came back to Canada in 1962 and eventually retired to Inglewood.
In her 100th year, Hazel is sharp and still learning, the glint of the young woman still in her eyes as she congratulated her fellow graduates.
“She has lived a full life, she is loved by all who meet her,” said Marshall. “So you see, she did not let her life circumstances stop her education, she worked around it.”