Fulfilling a Family Destiny

July 13, 2021

Buffalo, NY - Patrick Johnson MS '21 walked at commencement exercises in May.  This was noteworthy for three reasons:

  • First, he received a degree 44 years after taking his first classes at Canisius.
  • Second was that this is not nearly the family record. 
  • Third, that he was able to walk at all.

Johnson, 65, fell at his Clarence home in 2016 and broke his back. He was in bed for several months, able to walk only a few steps at a time, and then only with the aid of a walker.

“I had three operations at ECMC,” he says, “and they put Humpty Dumpty together again.”

Now he gets around pretty well, though with enough metal screwed into his spine to fill a bin at the hardware store. And in May, he walked the walk he had been waiting for since the days of disco.

“I got really emotional,” he says. “It took me two minutes to compose myself.”

Johnson graduated from Kenmore West in 1973, then joined the Navy. He began at Canisius on the day of his discharge, in 1977. After three semesters in pre-engineering, he left school. By then he was married to Annamarie, his high school sweetheart, and wanted to get started
on his career at Sierra Research, an aerospace and defense company in Cheektowaga. Decades later, his mother asked when he was going back to school.

“I said, ‘Mom, I’m 60. I’m not going back to college.’ ” She asked why not. He couldn’t think of a good answer. So he applied to Medaille and earned his business degree after a lifetime in business.

Then, last summer, he finished his master’s in sport administration from Canisius. This fulfilled a family destiny.

“My father went to Canisius,” he says. “My sisters Mary and Madonna did, too. It means a lot to me. I love the school.”

Johnson’s father, Richard, began at Canisius in 1946 but left for dental school before completing his undergraduate degree. Decades later Canisius offered to confer degrees on students of that era who had left early for law schools, med schools, and dental schools. Of 150 such candidates, 22 met the criteria mandated by the State Education Department, including Johnson’s father. Canisius awarded his bachelor of science degree, posthumously, in 2003 — 57 years after his first class at Canisius.

“Dad has me beat,” Johnson says. “It’s not even close.”

Johnson didn’t attend graduation at Medaille in 2017 because he couldn’t walk across the stage. At Canisius, his walk felt more like flying — on Griffin wings.