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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
ABC medical director Dr. Timothy Johnson visits with Sally Weaver while her husband, Jerry, takes photos after commencement at Manchester College.

Expect unexpected, doc says

– One night while on a medical fellowship in Indonesia in 1968, a young couple picked up a lone little boy in the pediatrics ward of a hospital.

The two brought the boy with them to a birthday party, and decided to let him stay with them overnight. Instead of returning the parentless boy to the hospital the next morning, the couple instead spontaneously decided to adopt him. The boy is now a 42-year-old man with a wife and two children.

He is also the son of ABC medical director Timothy Johnson, who gave the commencement address at Manchester College on Sunday. Johnson’s story was part of a message to graduating seniors that their lives may not exactly go the way they think.

“You are in for some huge surprises,” he told the class of 200 students. “Surprises you cannot imagine as you sit here today.”

Johnson has appeared on news shows such as “Nightline,” “20/20” and “Good Morning America” as a medical commentator. He is a faculty member at Harvard and is on staff at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Johnson has personal ties to Manchester College – it was his mother’s alma mater.

Johnson had the audience laughing – he began his speech with a joke about a pope who died and requested to spend time looking at Scripture. After a few hours, Johnson said, the pope began lamenting. When St. Peter went to check on him, the pope said, “I don’t believe it! The word is celebrate!”

It took a moment, but the joke drew laughs from the crowd.

The college is affiliated with the Church of Brethren, and Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs Glen Sharfman introduced Johnson as having an ability to combine faith, medicine and learning.

“He transforms our ignorance into knowledge, transforms our anxiety into action,” Sharfman said.

Johnson said afterward that, after many years of speaking at commencement ceremonies, he knew he had to keep it short and provide personal stories to connect with students.

Johnson, as well as Manchester alumna Marsha Palmer Link, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

After the ceremony, Johnson said he tailors his speeches each year to reflect current events. Because he suggested students stay open to opportunities and changes that arise, he said the message might really hit home in light of the current economy. College graduates may have to work or volunteer in fields they hadn’t planned on working in, he said.

Plymouth native Sara Oszuscik graduated in December and walked in the May commencement. She said she felt lucky to have found a job right out of college, working at an accounting firm in Elkhart. But, she added, if she hadn’t found a job, Johnson’s speech would have given her hope that there were opportunities available, despite the job market.

At the end of his speech, Johnson once again urged students to ask questions, take advantage of opportunities and follow the path they present.

“And on that journey, I wish you well,” he said.