August 19, 2011

Award winner revered for talent and generosity

An outstanding writer and selfless peer, Riley Johnson ’11 nabbed the 2011 Rena J. Ratte Award.
  • Riley Johnson ’11, Rena Ratte recipient

An outstanding writer and selfless peer, Riley Johnson ’11 is the winner of the 2011 Rena J. Ratte Award. The undergraduate college’s highest academic honor, the award recognizes excellence in scholastic, intellectual, and creative achievements.

Perhaps more than any other area, Johnson’s creative achievements impressed the faculty with whom he worked while pursuing a major in English.

“What most distinguishes Riley is his extraordinary writing,” said Mary Szybist, associate professor of English and Johnson’s academic advisor. “He is ambitious in the best way: he is far less concerned with approval or validation than he is concerned with pushing himself to go beyond what he already knows how to do as a writer. I have every faith that he is going to go on to write things that will astonish and humble us all.”

Johnson received the Rena Ratte award during the undergraduate Honors Convocation ceremony preceding commencement in May.

Throughout his time at Lewis & Clark, Johnson maintained an exceptional academic record, including membership in the prestigious Pamplin Society of Fellows.

He is inspiring not only as a writer and a thinker but as a human being.Mary Szybist

In 2010, Johnson received the English department’s Dixon Award, which supported his research of 18th century archives in Britain.

Even more than his independent work abroad, Johnson’s contributions to academic discourse at Lewis & Clark set him apart.

“He embodies literary generosity,” Szybist said. “He has a well-developed sense of empathy, and he knows how to really listen and respond to other people. Often he sees possibilities in their work that I fail to see. He is inspiring not only as a writer and a thinker but as a human being.”

Johnson attributes much of his academic growth to close interactions with faculty.

“Professors at Lewis & Clark generally possess the marvelous (and rare) ability to lead without dictating,” he said. “I feel, now that I’ve graduated, like I’ve been forcibly improved as a scholar and as a writer without being effaced as an individual human being. I’m sure that’s in large part because of the student-faculty collaboration in which I was able to partake. And I’m grateful for every minute of it.”

After graduation, Johnson returned to his native Montana with the plan to substitute teach in the public schools while applying to graduate programs. After he earns a PhD in literature and an MFA in fiction writing, he hopes to pursue a career as an English professor.


Learn about other Lewis & Clark recipients of prestigious awards.