Faces of South: Johnae Beckem, Advertising. Art. Activism.

Choosing a major or area of study is one of the most important decisions a student makes during their first years in college. While some students get to campus with a clear career path in mind from an early age, others find it helpful to “try out” several different majors and explore their options based on their talents, interests and values. For 20-year-old South Seattle College student Johnae Beckem, choosing an area of study involved weighing her love of advertising and marketing with her passion for art and activism.

“Growing up I always thought I’d be a biologist,” says Johnae, a native of Southfield, Michigan who moved to Seattle when she was ten-years-old. “I ended up going to Cleveland High School, a STEM-focused high school. But while I was there I realized I wanted to go another route. I became president of the Black Student Union and was very interested in social justice activism and becoming a lawyer.”

In high school she applied and was accepted to the King County Bar Association’s Future of the Law Institute. The program, designed to stir interest in law among high school students from diverse backgrounds, exposed her to the legal profession, including interacting with judges and lawyers and participating in mock trials. Johnae also had the opportunity to work at a local law firm.

“Being able to work alongside lawyers in the industry was a great experience.” says Johnae. “It helped me realize that law was probably not what I wanted to do with my life, but it also helped me realize how important social justice issues are to me.”

Her senior year of high school, Johnae was accepted to St. John’s University in Queens, New York. At only 17, Johnae packed her bags and made the long cross-country trip from Seattle to the Big Apple.

“When I first learned I was accepted to St. John’s I was so excited, but also really nervous because it’s very expensive to attend,” says Johnae. “I absolutely fell in love with the city though. I loved how diverse and open-minded Queens was. There were really people from all over the world. Plus, they had really good Caribbean food which is my favorite!”

After completing her freshman year at St. John’s, Johnae said she found herself struggling to make ends meet and made the tough decision to move back to Seattle.

“Coming back to Seattle was hard, I missed the independence of living in the city,” says Johnae. “But pretty soon after I got back I applied to South. My favorite thing about this campus compared to St. John’s is how close-knit South is. I like walking onto campus and recognizing people, it’s really easy to make friends here.”

Wanting to become more involved on campus, Johnae joined the Martial Arts and Drama clubs and founded South’s Arts & Expression Club. She also began working in the South Seattle College Art Gallery, and became involved with the Art Gallery Advisory Committee. During her first quarter, Johnae volunteered to become the public relations manager for South’s Black Student Union (BSU), and helped coordinate events, design posters and promote events on social media. It was through her work in the Art Gallery and BSU that Johnae discovered her talent and passion for marketing and advertising.

“I finally found what I love to do while working for BSU,” says Johnae, who was elected president of the club during Fall Quarter 2017. “Marketing our events is important because our goal is to bring our community together. We want to create a space where people feel comfortable talking about important and difficult topics, from African cultures to current social justice issues. I want it to feel like a family.”

South Seattle - Johnae and Sadin - DSC_9527

(l-r) Interim President Peter Lortz, Johnae Beckem, recipient Sadin Safi and Seattle Colleges Chancellor Shouan Pan attend the annual All-Washington Academic Team reception on March 22, 2018.

Johnae’s contributions to the campus community and academic achievements have also earned her a place on the 2018 All-Washington Academic Team. She is among 78 of Washington’s top scholars, selected based their high academic achievements, community involvement and service to their college.

After graduating from South with her Associate in Business degree, Johnae plans to attend Howard University, a historically black college in Washington D.C., to pursue her bachelor’s degree in marketing. After college she hopes to find a position in retail marketing and eventually open her own public relations firm.

“I want new students to know that you don’t need your whole life planned out before coming to South,” says Johnae. “It’s okay to explore. I took so many different paths to find out what I liked to do, and now I’m so excited for what’s to come!”