What SOAS means to me: An interview with alum, Johnnie Carson

By |April 17, 2015|1970s, Leading voices, SOAS in the world, What SOAS means to you|0 comments

Johnnie Carson is a diplomat and Senior Advisor to the US President. He graduated from SOAS with a BA International Studies in 1976. Here, he shares his experiences of his time at SOAS and his aspirations for the School’s future.

Read the stories and memories of alumni from the1970s and other decades by visiting the alumni pages on the SOAS website.

Why did you choose SOAS as the place to study?
Having served for three years in the U.S. Peace Corps, I was keenly interested in Africa; and SOAS had an outstanding reputation, a world class faculty, a diverse student body and number of graduates who had distinguished themselves in government, academia and politics.  

What did you enjoy about the course?
The course was excellent.  I enjoyed the small seminar classes, the diversity of the students — British, American, African and European, and the close engagement and interaction with the faculty.

What would be a seminal moment, event, achievement or person during your time at the School?
The Faculty was outstanding and some of the greatest moments were spent in the classroom and seminars  —  discussing critical issues and talking about significant historical and political developments in Africa with my tutors and classmates.  I had an opportunity to study with Dr. Richard Rathbone, Dr. Shula Marks, Dr. Andrew Roberts and several other notable faculty.  They were outstanding teachers and scholars. They were enthusiastic and passionate about Africa and encouraged students to read broadly, analyse issues carefully and to purse their scholarly and professional interests.

One of the themes for the centenary is ‘SOAS in the World’. What does this mean to you?
In a diplomatic career that has spanned four decades, I have had opportunity to meet numerous SOAS graduates in the United States and in Africa. During my tenure as U.S. Ambassador in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister at the time was Dr. Stan Mudenge, a great historian and a distinguished SOAS graduate and during my tenure as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, I had the pleasure of working closely with the late President of Ghana, the Honourable John Atta Mills, one of Ghana’s great leaders and also a distinguished SOAS graduate.

Whether it is an important American Africanist in Washington like Dr. Todd Moss at the Centre for Development Economics, Steve McDonald at the Wilson Centre for International Scholars or a young American Foreign Service officer, I have encountered SOAS graduates and alums everywhere. Africa is a serious and deep subject of interest.

What three words symbolise the School’s next 100 years? “Scholarship and Leadership” or “Continue to Lead”.

Can you provide a piece of SOAS history? Whether you have a relative that attended the School, you completed your PhD here, were one of the first students to study a particular discipline or have seen the School evolve over the years, submit your story to timeline@soas.ac.uk to be featured on this blog.

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