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Penn Hills woman addresses Edinboro graduates

Dillon Carr
| Saturday, June 10, 2017, 12:42 a.m.
Melana Johnson of Penn Hills delivered the 2017 graduate student commencement address at Edinboro University.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Melana Johnson of Penn Hills delivered the 2017 graduate student commencement address at Edinboro University.

Melana Johnson's message to those aspiring to do great things: Create opportunity and ask questions, no matter who or what gets in the way.

“Your background doesn't matter,” Johnson said, referring to her race and gender. Some lessons in how to respond to discrimination were hard to learn, she said.

“It's a daily challenge, but I still pursue (it) and kind of make myself equal,” Johnson said. “It is that way in my vision. It doesn't matter what somebody else thinks of me. I have to ignore the nonsense.”

Johnson, 28, a Penn Hills resident, Army National Guard second lieutenant and former Apache helicopter mechanic, delivered the keynote address at Edinboro University's spring graduate student commencement.

Choosing her was easy, said John Ziegler, the university's acting program head for its educational leadership master's degree.

For starters, Ziegler said, Johnson's work ethic stood out. She earned a master of education degree in educational leadership and served in the ROTC while pursuing her studies at Edinboro.

“Melana is one of those people that demonstrates a strong work ethic every day. She's unselfish with her time, especially when something needs to be done,” Ziegler said.

The committee in charge of choosing the keynote speaker found her work so inspiring, Ziegler said, it interviewed no one else.

Johnson received her undergraduate degree in psychology in 2011 from Edinboro. She joined the Army in 2013 after realizing that landing a job in her field would be difficult without diversified experience.

Shortly after joining the Army, she became an Apache helicopter mechanic.

While serving in Fort Eustis, Va., she enrolled in Edinboro University's online master's program.

She joined the ROTC program at Edinboro when she returned to the campus full time in 2015, hoping to become an Army officer.

She finished the degree program with a 4.0 grade-point average, and was commissioned as an Army National Guard officer the next day.

“I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do,” Johnson said, referring to when she graduated with the psychology degree. “But I knew I didn't want to be a psychologist, so I joined the military to reach and educate more people that way.”

With the Army National Guard, she now serves as an adjutant general officer in Washington County and has placed her name on the volunteer list for deployment.

And UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Oakland recently hired Johnson as a research specialist. She previously worked there as a therapist and service coordinator after getting her undergraduate degree.

Johnson aspires to work for the FBI or the CIA someday.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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