About Elijah Johnson
Elijah Johnson (@BPAPresident) is a 17-year-old senior at Blaine High School, in Blaine, Minnesota. Although he’s involved in a variety of extracurriculars, he’s most proud to serve as the National Secondary Division President of Business Professionals of America (BPA), a business education non-profit that changes the lives of students all around the world.
This year, he, along with the BPA Executive Council, has worked tirelessly to tackle some of the issues that the coronavirus has created for students. By the end of his term, he hopes to create a variety of positive opportunities for both students and teachers.
Elijah will be pursuing his post-secondary education at Harvard as part of the class of 2026.
Connect with Elijah: Email | Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
Business Professionals of America (BPA)
How to Win Friends and Influence People (book)
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:01):
Elijah, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are?
Elijah Johnson (00:12):
Sure. My name’s Elijah Johnson or I go by Eli and I’m the national secondary division president of business profess of America, which is a business education nonprofit mainly based in the United States, but also with an international presence in Haiti, Peru, China as well as Puerto Rico.
Sam Demma (00:32):
That’s awesome. What led you down this path to get involved in BPA and these different leadership opportunities?
Elijah Johnson (00:41):
Sure. So at my high school I’m a part of the, the engineering program that’s called Sims. And one of the things that some students have to do freshman year is do a computer skills class and the computer skills class is taught by bla high school’s resident. Overly friendly, super boldly, like always super cheerful teacher, miss Bosman. And she’s actually one of the VP’s core advisors at Lynn high school. So she eventually pulled me in to BPA just through talking to me and knowing what my interests were. So I eventually joined BPA through miss Bosman. And then when I was a junior, I started becoming an officer in the organization. And then a couple of months ago in may, I was elected as the national president.
Sam Demma (01:27):
That’s so amazing. And when you were in high school, was it that teacher’s bubbly personality that kind of drew you into BPA? Did she tap you on the shoulder and say, Hey, you should get involved or tell me more about how that unfolded.
Elijah Johnson (01:41):
Sure. It was exactly like that she’d burst into class and then she’d start pointing at people and she’d be like, you should join BPA and you should join BPA. I was one of the students that she pointed at and eventually like kind of just gave in and I was like, okay, sure. I guess I’ll, I’ll try it out for a little bit and see how it goes. And four years later and still in my…
Sam Demma (02:04):
That’s. Awesome. Tell me more about miss. Is it bossman?
Elijah Johnson (02:08):
Yes. Miss bossman. Yeah.
Sam Demma (02:09):
What was it like being a student in her class? Was she tell me more about her? I’m curious.
Elijah Johnson (02:15):
Sure. At times it was a little scary that you’d walk into a class cuz I had her first hour and somebody was already that hot be and like excited to start the day. like, especially as a freshman who was just getting orientated into high school. Just having that, that personality. I mean I’m, I’m being sarcastic. Obviously. I love miss Bosman and she was super fun, brought a lot of energy to teaching. Being a student in her class was pretty refresh she to start out your day with someone that was that supportive of everybody’s future and their education. Because one of the reasons that she’s an advisor is because she cares about students that much that she’s willing to put in all the time, it takes to be a VP advisor.
Sam Demma (03:02):
So what do you think makes a good leader? It sounds like miss bossman was a, a great leader for yourself and many of the students in your classroom. And now that you’re in a leadership position, I’m sure you are trying to live out certain characteristics and traits and mindsets yourself to make sure that you’re all a good leader. So what do you think some of those traits and characteristics are?
Elijah Johnson (03:23):
Right. Definitely the ability to relate to other people. I feel like you can’t be a leader of anything if you’re not able to connect to the people that you’re serving you need to know what their issues are. What’s important to them. Some of their problems are because then you need to work to be able to solve those problems and create solutions to the things that they need help with. I’d also say being a very open-minded person because as a leader you’re obviously exposed through different types of personalities, different types of socioeconomic backgrounds and, and such. So just having an open mindset and being able to work with anybody I think is really important.
Sam Demma (04:07):
And have you learned these things through your own personal experience or do you also have mentors and leaders that have poured into you at the, you know, at BPA or in other areas of your life?
Elijah Johnson (04:20):
I’d say both. A lot of my, my what’s the word kind of like not traits but values. Sorry. A lot of my values come from my family. And just being raised by my mom and dad, but for sure a lot of my professional values have definitely come from VP experiences. VP mentors, like miss Bosman, another one of my advisors, supposedly, and then also just the students that I work with getting able to interact with them and learning through them.
Sam Demma (04:52):
That’s awesome. And as a student yourself, like thinking about your whole journey through high school, just your whole journey as a student, what do you think has been the most helpful in terms of what teachers and educators have done for you? I think we all have teachers who pour a lot into us and maybe believe in ourselves sometimes more than we do. And those teachers can shape our future and, you know, push to make decisions that are helpful. What do you think some things are that educators have done for you that have made a massive impact?
Elijah Johnson (05:28):
Definitely being accessible. I’d say that’s the biggest thing that’s impacted me personally. Getting into the position that I’m in right now and running for national office was hands down, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And I know for a fact that I would not have been successful as I’ve been, if it wasn’t for another one of my advisors, Ms. Boley I would text her questions at all hours of the night. Like, how do you do this? How am I supposed to do this? You have any idea what I’m gonna be asked in the caucuses. So just being there having that presence for students is one of the most important things in my opinions that a teacher can do to support their students of that.
Sam Demma (06:12):
I think presence is so important, not only in the classroom, but also in every conversation you can tell when someone’s mind is elsewhere and not paying attention to the words that you’re saying. and I think we both know what it feels like to have those conversations. How do you, like, how do as a leader, do you ensure you stay present when someone is sharing or, you know, speak to you because there’s not, not only now being that you’re involved in BPA, but for the rest of your life, there will always be thousands of things pulling you, your attention and your energy and your thoughts away from the present moment. How do you like kind of remind yourself to stay present?
Elijah Johnson (06:54):
Right. So that’s a great question. And what I personally do is I try to ask questions. So if the, the person saying something that I don’t really understand or if I feel myself starting to drift away from what they’re saying, I try to write down mental questions of clarifying points that I can ask to kind of show that I am paying attention and also force myself to go back to paying attention with him, starting to drift away a little bit.
Sam Demma (07:21):
That’s amazing. There’s there’s a really great book called how to win friends and influence people written by this guy named Dale Carnegie. And he talks about the importance of being interested in somebody else rather than being interesting or trying to be interesting. Your, and I think that aligns so much with your idea of asking questions, which is awesome. On the topic of books, like, have you found any resources helpful for you as a leader and as a student that you think are worth sharing or do you watch any YouTube channels or listen to any podcast that you wanna give a shout out to?
Elijah Johnson (07:56):
Unfortunately I don’t honestly, the only book that I live by as a leader is Robert Robert’s rules. Cause that’s kinda elementary procedure that runs all over board trustees meetings. I see in terms of leadership development, really what I turn to is people that I can interact with. So different mentors within the organization that I can go to and say, Hey, how do you do this? How could I get better at this? So for sure books and, and different types of videos and YouTube series is something that I can start personally. Looking more into,
Sam Demma (08:33):
I, I would argue if you have access to the people who are doing exactly what you wanna do, then they’re probably your best source of learning anyway, like something that I always remind myself is that like all opinions are not created equally, that if you wanna learn how to fly a plane, you know, go and find the pilot instead of asking an attendant or somebody else. And if you have access to those people that are doing what you wanna do, then you don’t have to read books or watch YouTube videos. Anyway, you could just go ask them questions. I’m sure that along your journey, you’ve had so many supportive people, people that have propelled you forward and given you beliefs that were empowering, but there’s probably been situations or the opposite has occurred, or someone told you that your dreams are too big or that it was not gonna be possible or wasn’t gonna work out or you weren’t smart enough or you weren’t good enough. How do you deal with the limiting opinions and beliefs that other people place on you?
Elijah Johnson (09:32):
Honestly, just by moving on, you have to, to be thick skin sometimes and not care about what other people say to you. I remember very, very clear when I told my dad that I was gonna run for national office, he kind of just looked at me and went, okay. And then brushed me off and kind of forgot that I had said anything. He didn’t really start taking me seriously until I ended up becoming middle soda’s candidate in the national elections. And he was like, oh, you are serious about that. And then also kinda similarly, I tried to run for state office in Minnesota and one of my advisors told me that I was too young to run. So I, I actually didn’t end up running. And that kind of impacted me personally a lot because my VP journey almost stopped there. Being told that I couldn’t do something that I had been trying to work towards to, to work towards for years was really, really impactful. But I kind of did what I suggested and I just brushed that off, collected my thoughts. And I ended up asking if I, I could run for nationals and because the limitations that apply to my school regarding age don’t apply at nationals and I ended up completely skipping state and just ran in the national election.
Sam Demma (10:49):
that is such a good story, man. Do you tell this on stage at BPA events?
Elijah Johnson (10:55):
I have told it a bunch in online meetings like this, but not at any conferences so far
Sam Demma (11:00):
Sometimes we get so worried or upset when something doesn’t work out, but oftentimes it’s because there’s something better just waiting around the corner. I, I read this quote online recently that said, you know, when a door closes it’s because the universe, God faith wanna call it is telling you, you just have to walk up the hall and open the next one. And there might be something better behind that door than you had ever expected. I think that’s such a beautiful story that explains the importance of persistence, but also staying true to your vision. Like most people maybe would’ve hit that first limitation of age and decide, you know what, I’ll just wait, I’ll just wait till I’m older. But you know, you continued staying true to your, your dream and your vision, which was to get involved with BPA as an officer and you kind of founded a loophole with the national level and it worked out. What advice do you have for students who are dreamers, who might be dealing with the opinions of other people trying to make their own unique dreams, a reality. Do you have any general advice or feedback for someone trying to do something that might seem a little unrealistic to those around them?
Elijah Johnson (12:11):
Yeah, for sure. What I say is create a plan because especially if you’re dealing with external forces regarding a, a lack of belief that other people have in you, I’d say, if you can articulate what your goal is and the steps that it’ll take to reach that goal, then it’s a lot easier for people to start taking U seriously and for other people to say, okay, maybe they do have a chance. And also it’s easier for you because the steps that you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to go, are that much clearer when you have them running down and you know what you need to do.
Sam Demma (12:48):
Can you bring us back to your own plan? like, what, what was your plan after telling your pops? I wanna get involved ATPA as an officer
Elijah Johnson (12:59):
Sure. So I was sitting at the kitchen table. We were eating lunch. I think it was, we were eating sandwiches from Jersey mics and I was like, Hey dad, I’m gonna run for chapter office. Then I’m gonna run for regional office. Then I’m gonna run for state office. And then I’m gonna try to be elected as a national officer. And like I said, he kind of just looked at me and went whatever and rolled his eyes. The chapter in regional office went good, but then like we just talked about, I kind of hit a wall at state, but everything ended up working out in the end. So kind of like you said, when doors close others open that’s for sure.
Sam Demma (13:37):
That’s awesome. Sounds like your plan was to just start small and continue moving up from there. I think like sometimes what stops people is, you know, maybe the first goal they said is I’m gonna be represented by national office. I think, which was really helpful in your journey in your own plan was, let me start in my school, let me then go to regional, let me then go to state and let me then try and crack the national board. And I think when you break it down like that, you’re setting yourself up for more success. Because even if the first one or two levels of your plan are a little easier to accomplish, just the fact that you accomplish something is gonna give you the confidence to continue going and the momentum to continue moving forward. And it’s very clear that you’re someone who has lots of confidence and you speak very passionately. And clearly you brought, you know, one of your own dreams and goals that you told to your dad to life, despite the odds, where do you think your confidence comes from? And how do, how have you developed that as a young person?
Elijah Johnson (14:40):
Definitely by failing a lot. Like there’s absolutely no way to be successful if you don’t fail. I remember when, when I was elected as a chapter officer, I was actually the treasurer of my school. And at first I was a little upset cuz I’m like, how am I gonna eventually reach my goals if I’m starting out as just a treasurer? I mean, of course that position meant absolutely nothing. Like it didn’t matter that I was the treasurer. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was the president. The fact the only important part was that I had accomplished a part of what I wanted to do. So I just took that and moved forward and went on with my life. And there’s a lot of other areas of my life, where I failed like in sports where maybe I had a performance on guitar, that didn’t the way I wanted to. You just take the experiences and lessons that you learned, you pick yourself up and you move on.
Sam Demma (15:39):
One of my favorite, speaking of music, one of my favorite artists is this rapper named Russ. He has very affirmational music and one of the lyrics is that he takes his failures and uses as stepping stones. Like almost, you know, each of them is like a learning. And I think, especially in today’s society, we spend so much time focused on how successful people are and how great their life is. And it gets so, so much more like pronounced when you go on media, because everyone’s only highlighting the best parts of themselves. What is something or an area in your life or a situation where you, you defined to yourself that you failed that you’ve learned from that you think might be helpful for other people listening?
Elijah Johnson (16:28):
Yeah, I think that’s a very, very important question, cuz like you said, especially since everybody’s on social media now and really all we see on those platforms is perfect worlds with perfect people in them and you don’t really see the imperfections that make up who those people really are. So I’d say an area that I’ve definitely failed at, especially being a student leaders in the early months of my term, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. Like I was going to meetings, voting on things that I barely had an understanding of. And I was having all this, these difficult conversations with only a surface level knowledge or some of the topics that I needed to know because for better or for worse, one of the things that BPA likes to do is throw their students into things. So I was thrown into overseeing a $2.1 million budget thrown into an advocacy committee, thrown into policies and procedures.
Elijah Johnson (17:28):
So definitely struggling in those first few months, I’d say was a failure because not knowing the things that I need to know to effectively serve the students that I represent. That was definitely something that I look back on and wish that I was more prepared. So that, that didn’t happen. But like we talked about, you take your failures and you use them as stepping stones. So I, I went back and I said Hey, what could I have done to be better prepared? And then I worked on the areas that I was deficient at. And now that’s something that isn’t as much of a problem anymore.
Sam Demma (18:05):
That’s awesome. I love that. I was gonna ask you if you didn’t ask, what would you have done differently, but you did a great job answering that yourself. So thank you. I’m writing a book right now and the title of the book is gonna be called dear high school. Me and the premises that a lot of people that write books that contain advice for high school students are so far removed from the student life. That it’s hard to kind of give or accept advice from those people. Like if someone is 45 or 50 years old, yeah. Their advice is relevant, but it’s so far removed from what a student life might look like today. And so I thought it would be a unique idea to talk to people like yourself and also use my own experiences to write a book of advice for my younger or high school self. And if you could give one or two pieces of advice to your high school self, even right now, what would you tell yourself? Like if you could go back to the first year of high school and give yourself a one or two pieces of advice.
Elijah Johnson (19:05):
Number one, the biggest thing of all is don’t procrastinate. That’s something that I still struggle with as a senior in high school. Getting worked done when you get it initially is the best way to go. Cuz it’s immediately off your plate. You don’t have to worry about it two weeks later. It’s not gonna come back to haunt you. So just being proactive in the work that you’re given and the things that you need to get done and is for sure, one of the things that I wish I would’ve had drilled into my mind as a freshman in high school. And then also another piece of advice I give is just surround yourself with friends and students that you want to be like, cuz I can, I can say personally I’m still develop. And for sure, when I started out in high school, I was nowhere near the person that I am now. And I’ve partially developed because of BPA, but I’ve also developed because of the people that I’ve been surrounded by who I’ve admired and they’ve pushed me to become a better person. So I’d say lean on your friends. They’re the people who are gonna support you the most in addition to your family and other people. So procrastination and the importance of the people you surround yourself with are for sure the two pieces of advice I’d give.
Sam Demma (20:22):
All right. Love it. Awesome. Well, thank you again, Elijah, for coming on the podcast here, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. If someone wants to reach out or connect with you we’ll would be the best way for them to get in touch.
Elijah Johnson (20:34):
Sure. So if you went to the bpa.org website, you just type in bpa.org you can go to a tab called the executive council and then right on that is my email. So email@example.com. You can reach out to me at any time you wish.
Sam Demma (20:51):
Awesome, Elijah, thank you so much. Keep up the great work with yourself, your future endeavors and BPA. And we’ll talk soon.
Elijah Johnson (21:01):
Thanks for having me.
Join the Educator Network & Connect with Elijah Johnson
The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education. By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators. You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.