Johnson gives her first college lecture at USF

Shawn Johnson’s favorite moment as an athlete was at 12 years old when she qualified to compete at the elite level: training for the Olympic games.

“I came in last place, (but) I made it by 0.0025 of a point. And it was incredible,” she said. “It was the best feeling ever.”

The 18-year-old Olympian gave her first-ever lecture to a college audience Tuesday night during the University Lecture Series, speaking about her experiences leading up to her medal-winning Olympics and her victory on the hit TV show “Dancing With the Stars.”

Johnson grew up in West Des Moines, Iowa, and began taking gymnastics classes when she was 3 years old. At 16, she qualified to represent the U.S. in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, bringing home one gold medal and two silver medals.

Based on her experience, Johnson encouraged an audience of 350 to gain a sense of who they are – something she has done in her career.

“I know who I am, I know what I want and I know to stay true to myself,” she said. “As long as you know who you are, you’re a winner.”

Johnson, who said during her lecture that she would consider attending USF, enjoys being a role model, especially for the younger girls who came to the event.

“I hope they take something away from it,” she said after her lecture. “I just hope that they understand that anything is possible and, especially for the little girls, confidence is everything. You can be anything if you put your mind to it.”

Lindsey Morrow, a freshman majoring in biomedical science, said she enjoyed how grounded Johnson seemed and liked her emphasis on keeping a positive body image.

“I enjoyed how she saw that she had a lot of young girls here that she could really inspire. I mean, they’re going through that phase right now with middle school and high school when you learn a lot about yourself,” she said. “And (I like) how she was saying to be true to yourself and don’t worry about what other people say, especially about body image.”

Summer Rye-Buckingham, a freshman majoring in chemistry and a gymnast, said she could relate to Johnson.

“I liked how she said to stay grounded and surrounding yourself with good people, as well as staying true to who you are,” she said.