Hi my name Johnny Vaughn, and I am running for Democratic Prosecutor of Vigo County. In the Spring of 2021, I earned my Juris Doctorate. However, that is not where my story begins. My journey started 10 long years ago, when I was a fresh graduate from McLean Alternative School. As any high school graduate, I had to determine what my next step in life would be. Every time I envisioned my future, it always led to the same place. My dream was to serve my community, defend those who need help, and engender positive change in the judicial system.
I furthered my educational career by studying Economics and Political Science at Ivy Tech Community College. It was not an easy transition coming from my background. Culture shock best describes what I felt during those early years of college. It took a lot of mental reconditioning to adapt to this new lifestyle. It may sound like McLean failed me, nor gave me the resources I needed to succeed prior to graduation. That is not true. I had to overcome many obstacles well before I was ever a McLean student.
Like many children in our community, my upbringing was troubled. My mother was a teenager when she gave birth to me. Both of my parents had legal troubles involving drugs throughout my childhood. Living conditions were less than ideal at times due to no fault of my own. Society instilled in my brain from an early age that getting an education is the best way to achieve success as an adult. However, in my personal life, there wasn’t anybody around who had an education beyond a high school degree, nor was there anybody who had a career path I could shadow. .
There is a fine line between being told the steps to succeed and actually being taught them. Every early educator practices different methods of shaping study habits. I understood I needed to read a Reading Counts book for homework. It was verbally told to me by my teachers and it was written in my agenda. It should have been very simple, but that wasn’t always the case. I had to teach myself how to focus on homework in the mix of chaos. I may have been in the corner of a noisy room with my eyes gliding across a page but my mind was always miles away. There were court dates, raids, arguments, and instability of living with my parents and living with my grandparents, which consumed a significant portion of my time outside of school.
Teenage years changed my study habits and my views on education. Thankfully, I was able to strive in the small environment that McLean provided and was able to create real relationships with educators. In years’ prior, my communication with my educators was very minimal and superficial. The advice and hard work that was instilled into me at McLean ultimately guided me to pursue my dreams at Indiana State University.
Initially, I started My college career at Ivy Tech Community College before transferring to Indiana State University. There were multiple reasons why starting at a community college made sense. Starting a higher education obviously took major adjusting. I feared diving head first into the environment of a larger university. This route gave me a chance to dip my toes into the water. However, when the time came to transfer to Indiana State University, I felt fearless and accepted.
At this point, I had cultivated a new foundation. My future was beginning to look much brighter than my past. I was becoming more confident in searching for connections and opportunities to take advantage of. I dove head first into politcal issues, elections, and potential candidates. While my previous life challenges were pivotal to shaping my personal fortitude, the challenges ahead were vital to my professional growth. One major milestone was when I stepped out of my comfort zone to reach out to Jon Ford. The knowledge and experiences that followed were truly life changing.
In the summer of 2014, I found myself intrigued in this new world I was working hard to fit into. Any free moment that didn’t consist of school work I was dedicating to Jon Ford’s Campaign. This intern position allowed me to develop strong oral communication skills. If I’m being honest, in the beginning, I was terrified to knock on doors and make phone calls! I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for the task. But by the 1,000th door and 2,000th poll phone call, the anxiety was not coursing throughout my body when I would initiate a conversation. To my surprise, the excitement grew as I hungered for a deeper understanding of the community's wants, needs, and concerns for present and future legislation.
The interactions I was having helped strengthen my verbal skills, but I felt like my writing skills also had room for improvement. Time was fleeting and I wanted to get more involved on the academia level. Joining the institute's newspaper for the fall semester was perfect for both goals. Each week, I selected a topic that meant something to me and researched it extensively. Utilizing various resources allowed me to publish my best educated opinion on the subject.
By the winter of 2014, all my hard work was paying off. Jon Ford and Eric Baszler presented me with an opportunity I could not turn down. I was privileged with the honor of being a Legislative Intern for the Indiana State Senate. The firsthand knowledge this experience provided helped mold my understanding of how political issues are handled at the state level. For example, I was able to communicate directly with constituents and local officials on a wide variety of topics, including pending legislation and assistance with state agencies. Researching and responding to specific legislative questions or problems posed by my Senators’ or a constituent was something I enjoyed greatly.
It was May of 2016, when I walked across the stage for the second time in my life. I was far from that 18-year-old naive boy I once was. I knew this was not the end of my journey. This was just a very bittersweet stop along the way. My goals only align with having a doctoral degree. In my mind, there was no other option. It was all or nothing. I mean that in every sense possible. Clearly, I did not have the luxury of having a college fund in place for me. If I was going to gamble my entire financial future on this, I had to succeed.
That is exactly that I did. I put all of my eggs in one basket. I bet against all odds that I would, once again, break the mold that society and statistics told me I would never break. Like everything else in life, grad school gave me an entirely new set of challenges. It gave me more tools for my toolbox. It gave me life knowledge. It gave me perspective. As part of this monumental evolution, I altered some of my former opinions. With new knowledge comes new opinions and with both comes growth. My dream for my future is still to serve my community, defend those that need help, and have a positive impact in the judicial system. That is exactly what I will do going forward.