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‘Anchor down!’ Franklin High siblings prepare for life at Vandy amid pandemic

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As families with students prepare for school, unsure what the semester will bring, two recent Franklin High School graduates are packing up for Vanderbilt University, ready in the current pandemic to tackle their freshman year, strange as it may be, the same way they handled their senior year of high school — by just going for it.

Solathus and Savion Johnson spent over two hours Monday morning trying to secure time slots for their socially distanced move-in day at Vanderbilt, refreshing the internet browser on their phones and hoping to get in before the school’s site crashed because of heavy web traffic. These days, navigating traffic means something a little different from driving on crowded roads.

The Johnson twins spent the last quarter of their senior year at Franklin High at home with their mom, Shanita Beech, and tried to limit distractions as they completed their online AP exams and motivate themselves out of the feeling that they were on vacation. 

COVID-19 stole track season, prom, traditional graduation and end-of-year goodbyes. Now, even the twins’ first semester on a college campus will end with virtual exams at home as families dine on leftover turkey and cranberry sauce.

But the Johnsons are focusing on the positives.

“It’s so close (to home), and then, I mean, the education is second to none,” Savion said, adding that Vanderbilt is the perfect place to pursue his physics degree as he aspires to be an astrophysicist. His brother, meanwhile, will major in biochemistry.

Solathus said that while he was set on biochemistry before the coronavirus pandemic, the situation reminded him that there will always be more to learn in the field and further motivates him toward his goal of biomedical research.

While their ACT scores and high school GPA helped them get into a college they’re excited about, the two also ran track and pursued student leadership opportunities to build their resumes early. Both also credited their mom’s encouragement for their drive toward success.

“I can remember from freshman year, maybe in eighth grade, my mom already told us, ‘There’s two of you guys. We’ve got to figure out a way to get college paid for,’” Solathus said. “We’ve always been pretty smart, getting high grades … but we just knew that we had to really stay focused.”

Beech said she’s “overjoyed” from seeing that her sons worked hard to secure their education and will now move onto one of the top private universities in the country. She said she has also continually encouraged her sons in their Christian faith — “the best support system,” as Savion called it — sharing that God can help them do all things.

“When we first moved here, (Solathus and Savion) were 5,” she said. “I put a Scripture on the wall in the bathroom. … ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’ and that’s my advice to them for the rest of their days. You can do all things as long as you put God first.”

The brothers say that their faith has taught them the importance of selflessness and relying on God for their strength, while their time in school has showed them the importance of staying focused and surrounding themselves with like-minded people who will encourage success. These are all principles they plan to bring with them into their college careers.

“To be successful is also to surround yourself with people that also want to be successful,” Solathus said, adding that, to him, success is doing something to one’s highest ability and then learning to get better. “A lot of times, people think, ‘Oh, I have to do this all on my own,’ but I think the best way to be successful is to have other people that are there to help you.”

As processes and structures change during the pandemic, the Johnson twins say these principles remain the same. Just as they took on more-advanced courses in high school and went “out on a limb,” according to Savion, the brothers will face new challenges in a similar way, reassured that they will continue to grow.

“God has us, and he’s had us throughout this whole entire journey, even before high school,” Solathus said. “My entire life he’s been there, and then even now, he’s continued to bless me with this opportunity.”

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