In his more than 25 years with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Stephen Johnson was a witness to multiple environmental crises, including the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina.
Dr. Johnson recalled seeing the flames after the airplane struck the Pentagon. It was a sight I'll never forget, he said, speaking on Tuesday during the Global Events Forum at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
He also spoke about the EPA's efforts to clean up the Hart Senate Building after the 2001 anthrax attacks using chlorine dioxide, a substance that can be deadly at certain levels, he said.
Dr. Johnson also spoke about the day he received a call from President George W. Bush asking to meet privately with him. It's almost like being called to the principal's office. You're not sure what's to come, Dr. Johnson said.
What came was an invitation to become the EPA's 11th administrator. He said his emotions at the time ranged from happy to honored to humbled, which he summarized in terms of passages from Scripture: Psalm 68:3, I Samuel 2:30 and Matthew 23:12. He served as administrator from 2005 to 2009.
Until that time, Dr. Johnson had worked primarily as a scientist and an executive with the agency. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he would one day serve under the President, he said.
While the job afforded him a chance to travel internationally and meet celebrities, it also came with challenges. At times, he said, he felt like Daniel in the lion's den.
For instance, he was criticized for saying God bless America during a speech, he said. Another time, he was investigated for hosting weekly prayer meetings in his office, he said.
This was not the government, this was not the country I thought I was serving, he said.
When he instituted the most protective smog regulations in the nation's history, he faced criticism from both sides. Some said it wasn't enough. Some said it was too much, he said.
In a position like that one, everyone is watching, Dr. Johnson said. As the servant leaders of tomorrow, young people must ask themselves one question before posting material on social media sites: Is there anything in your background that could be viewed as an embarrassment to the President of the United States? I would urge you to not only think twice or three times, I would urge you not to do it, he said.
Dr. Johnson also advised students to view their relationship with Christ and their belief structure as a foundational element, and he urged them to take advantage of their time here at PBA.
It is fleeting. You are here for a season, he said. You are the next servant leaders of our nation.