“You need to choose whatever it is that will get you out of bed in the morning.”
While on the phone with her father, this was exactly what freshman Hannah Johnston (Speech Communication ’10, M.S. ’13) needed to hear. Hannah’s perfectionist mind had spent many long nights going over her commercial art projects and her teacher’s feedback again and again. Where else could God use her talents instead?
Hannah has led sophomore to senior virtual speech classes as an adjunct professor at a Christian college in California for the last year and a half. “My SP 101 (Fundamentals of Speech) class certainly got me energized for the day,” Hannah said, recalling the moment that brought her to change her major at Pensacola Christian College. “I realized speech was something I could pursue with passion; even though it would be very hard, I could go after it and do my best to conquer it with joy and excitement for the future.”
It was through taking Abeka homeschool courses in elementary and high school that Hannah had learned about the College. “PCC taught me adaptability, organization, and confidence,” she said. “The structured atmosphere, the godly people I met, and the lasting friends I made have played a huge part in making me who I am.”
As a student studying speech and dramatics, Hannah continued to struggle with perfectionism, but she persevered. Her class and production experience on and off the stage helped her understand the makings of a great production, a standard of excellence she holds to and shares while instructing her current classes. However, as she accepted extra projects and responsibilities during her junior year, she found herself facing a challenge bigger than any performance or production she had worked on before—severe anxiety.
“God knew I needed to learn empathy,” Hannah recalled. She is most proud of the performances she gave after facing anxiety, including Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday, Jane in Jane Eyre, and Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. “He slowed me down and broke down my pride as I learned to say ‘no’ and ‘I can’t.’ He taught me not only to lean more fully on Him for my daily strength, but also to recognize others who were silently struggling in the same storm, afraid to admit it to anyone.”
Taking the initiative on her experience, Hannah Johnston took time to write and publish a book on her experience Butterflies in Formation: A Practical Approach to Managing Performance Anxiety. The book is now used in PCC’s SP 101 Fundamentals of Speech class. “I shared my anxiety recovery story without shame, often to large audiences,” Hannah continued. “I can’t count the number of people, young and old, who have come forward and found such encouragement to simply know they’re not alone and that there is hope. This purpose to reach others was and continues to be one of the reasons for my life and my teaching.”
As adjunct faculty in California, Hannah created and currently leads three classes of her own—Storytelling and Scriptwriting, Marriage and Family Communication, and Interpersonal Communication. “I had thought the virtual aspect would be the largest challenge for me since I teach a performance class as well as lecture classes; but it’s amazing what a little imagination and extreme organization coupled with great technology can do to make a performance class fun and effective over 2,000 miles away,” she said.
“I love connecting with the various students and seeing how the material from class helps them in their lives outside of class,” Hannah continued. “As a result of the class content, several students have kindly shared with me some of their personal real-life victories over things which they thought impossible before: mending relationships through communication, making wise and hard life decisions, dealing with extreme conflict, among others.”
Over the last few years, Hannah has been glad to share in a variety of milestones and accomplishments, including founding an online group for those striving to overcome anxiety, leading a live storytelling group to encourage children and families during quarantine, completing an audiobook of her expanded Butterflies in Formation, and having her daughter, Jemma.
Hannah is thankful for the experiences, training, and relationships she built during her time at PCC. She’s especially thankful for the advice, professionalism, genuine warmth, and imagination from the faculty. “My confidence and my opportunities blossomed as I proved to myself and my teachers that I could handle the difficult tasks,” she said. “That confidence won by experience has been one of my chief treasures PCC gave me which I try to remember in my own life and to pass on to my current students.”
During her own time as a PCC faculty member, Hannah was glad to lead programs under Dr. Troy Shoemaker, president of the College. “Dr. Shoemaker trusted me to run important programs like Praise Services, Convocations, and Student Body programs,” she explained. “He willingly allowed me to make big decisions and to create unique content to present to the student body. His relaxed confidence in me bolstered me to keep creating big.”
As she looks back on her experience, Hannah Johnston is most thankful for God leading her through the storms, and her husband Raymond (Management ’11, M.B.A. ’13) for staying by her side. “[Raymond] was my trusty friend during my anxiety in undergrad, he was my greatest supporter all through the rigor of grad school before we got married, and he has been my stronger half all these 8.5 years we’ve been married,” said Hannah. “If you want to be great, be sure to surround yourself with great people.”
Read more about how God is directing and working through PCC faculty and alumni.