Berkeley High graduate dies at 20, remembered for kind spirit

Julie Gordon/Courtesy

Bowen Johnson, a Berkeley High School graduate, died Oct. 13 after a two-year battle with leukemia. He was 20 years old.

Johnson graduated from BHS in 2015. When he attended BHS, he played baseball, belonged to the Communication Arts and Sciences, or CAS, program and worked for the student newspaper, Berkeley High Jacket, as a sports writer and editor.

Many of Johnson’s friends and family members described him as a kind, warm, playful and genuine person. Julie Gordon, Johnson’s mother, said he loved music, sports and a good joke. She added that Johnson was a loving son who always said thank you.

“I always followed his lead. He’s been a great leader,” Gordon said. “He didn’t care what other people thought of him.”

Gordon also said Johnson was great with kids. In the summer, Johnson often worked as a counselor at Camp Kee Tov and worked at the preschool he attended as a child. Gordon said she often thought Johnson would become a coach or a teacher.

Hasmig Minassian, who was also Johnson’s CAS history teacher at BHS, said she remembered that when CAS students had a discussion after a harassment incident, Johnson listened carefully to the individuals affected and acknowledged how they were harmed by the incident. Minassian also remembered that Johnson asked important questions about what responsibility young men — such as himself — have to prevent future harassment incidents.

“He wouldn’t overcomplicate anything, but he also really understood his role in the community environment,” Minassian said. “Sometimes it was just to be silent and listen, sometimes it was to … reflect critical feedback.”

Dana Moran, a BHS teacher who also taught Johnson CAS history, said they talked about sports a lot together.

Moran said she saw Johnson as a positive spirit in the world. She added that he was a curious person but was never defensive.

“He was ,” Minassian said. “He was the kind of kid who would wait around to hear the answers.”

According to Gordon, Johnson was diagnosed with leukemia after three weeks of attending college. He later transferred to UC Santa Cruz but relapsed there.

The Jacket published a memorial for Johnson that many family members and friends, including Minassian and Moran, contributed to. Minassian included a poem Johnson wrote in fall 2013 entitled “I Believe” in her contribution.

“I believe in the power of Friendship. / The 2 out, 3 and 2 pitch that will win or lose the game for you,” Johnson said in his poem. I believe in the helping hand. / I believe in living life to the fullest.”

Contact Adrianna Buenviaje at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @adriannaDC.