Dreams of defending the poor and wrongfully accused are slowly replacing Johnnie Fitzpatrick’s ’16 recurring dream where he relives being shot in the left leg because of someone else’s drug deal gone bad.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he asserts. The Muncie native was shot when he was with a friend who was picking up another friend at a college party.
Two weeks prior to the shooting, Fitzpatrick had signed on to join the Navy.
“I wanted to get away from home and to stay out of trouble,” he remembers. Fortunately, the bullet went though his leg just between the femur and the main artery of the leg. Huddled in a closet, he thought he had been hit by a Taser until he felt his blood-saturated jeans.
The wound kept him down for a few days, but he soon found himself in the Naval IT Department stationed in Norfork, VA.
“I saw the Navy as a way to travel and a way to get school paid for, but I was stationed at Norfolk the whole time,” he says. “I was never on a ship. I was stuck in front of a computer and confined to a room for 12 hours. I like being up and moving around. I like interacting with people. I found that I wanted more out of life and more out of a job.”
In addition to the training and skills he obtained while working in IT, Fitzpatrick says the Navy was a good experience because he matured and learned good study habits and self-discipline.
After his discharge, Fitzpatrick completed an associate’s degree in general studies at Ivy Tech in Muncie.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to study, and I knew I could get the general classes out of the way,” he says. “Ivy Tech helped me to know a little more about what I might want to do for a career.”
Without knowing that Fitzpatrick had been considering law, a professor there told him he would make a good attorney.
“’You have a big heart and you want to help everybody in the community,” he remembers the professor telling him. “I had thought about law, but I thought I didn’t want to go to school for so long. Now I want to stay in school. I love school.”
A chance encounter while voting turned his eyes toward Earlham. By chance he saw his former football coach Sam Beasley ’04 at the polls, and Beasley convinced Fitzpatrick to check into attending Earlham. Beasley was finishing a law degree at IUPUI.
“Sam told me about Earlham and what it was able to do for him,” says Fitzpatrick, an African and African-American Studies (AAAS) major. The choice to attend Earlham and study AAAS has paid off.
“I have learned critical thinking and argumentative skills in AAAS,” he says. “I can open a text and break it down to what is really important. I ask a lot of questions. I always have. If there’s something I don’t understand, I am not afraid to ask.”
This summer Fitzpatrick, who also runs sprints on Earlham’s track team, arranged to job shadow Beasley who is now an attorney and found that these skills will prove necessary in future litigations.
“That’s what I will be doing as a lawyer,” he says. “I will be reading through cases and will be able to see the facts. This is thanks to the critical reading skills I have developed in my AAAS classes. I can tell if what’s being said are facts or just suggestions.”
Associate Professor of Religion and Associate Professor and Director of AAAS James Logan noticed Fitzpatrick’s dedication to his studies and nominated him for the Realizing the Dream scholarship, an Independent Colleges of Indiana scholarship that recognizes outstanding first-generation college students.
“I’m in library for hours almost everyday,” Fitzpatrick says. “James saw my work ethic.”
On Nov. 1, Fitzpatrick received a $2,500 Realizing the Dream scholarship, which he will add to the $700 Jose Royo Spain International Travel Scholarship to fund his semester abroad in Spain this spring.