Nikki Johnson-Alfano Gives Women & Leadership Talk at Gettysburg College
By Ella Prieto, Assistant News Editor
On Tuesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., lawyer Nikki Johnson-Alfano gave a speech on women and leadership in the College Union Building. The event was co-sponsored by the Public Policy Department, the Eisenhower Institute’s (EI) Women and Leadership program, the EI Fielding Fellows, the Pre-Law Program, The Women’s Network, and the women, gender, and sexuality studies department.
The event began with an introduction by Rachel Herr ’26 and Savannah Metzger ’25. Herr explained the components of the Women and Leadership program, and Metzger gave an introduction for Johnson-Alfano and welcomed her to the microphone.
Johnson-Alfano, a tax attorney in Philadelphia managing her own firm, began her speech by discussing her back story.
“I’m standing here because of my grandmother,” Johnson-Alfano said.
She explained how her grandmother, who was born in Mississippi, had moved to Detroit and faced many issues in the city due to its urban setting and crime. Johnson-Alfano was born in Detroit, but her mother was a drug addict, and her father left when she was two years old, so her primary caretaker was her grandmother.
When working for rich white families in the suburbs, her grandmother was hit by a bus, and this took the family “from the working poor to poor.” A settlement came from the accident, however, and with the money earned, Johnson-Alfano’s grandmother moved their family to California in hopes of bettering their life.
Unfortunately, in California, the drug problems of Johnson-Alfano’s mother continued, and Johnson-Alfano was removed from her grandmother, leading her to deal with homelessness. It was during this time that Johnson-Alfano began to visit her local library.
“But for me, during the day we would go to the library and it opened up an entire new world for me. And it’s where I dreamed not necessarily about being a leader, but I dreamed about having a different life. I dream about being a lawyer,” said Johnson-Alfano.
After over a year of living on the streets, Johnson-Alfano was returned to her grandmother when her mother realized that she could not properly care for her daughter. After moving in with her grandmother, Johnson-Alfano began to attend public school, where they wanted to hold her back due to previous missed school years. Johnson-Alfano’s grandmother insisted that her granddaughter be allowed to test to decide where she would be placed. Johnson-Alfano described her grandmother’s insistence as advocacy, which she believed to be a key part of being a leader. After being tested, Johnson-Alfano was deemed gifted in math and English.
“And with that label [of gifted], it changed my mind about what I could achieve and what was possible for me in the rest of the world,” Johnson-Alfano said.
Johnson-Alfano went on to obtain a scholarship to St. Joseph’s University, and she moved from California to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The move was difficult for Johnson-Alfano as she felt alienated at the college. She then lost her scholarship and was kicked out of St. Joseph’s at the end of her first year.
“I remember saying, ‘My life is over. I don’t know what I’m going to do,’” said Johnson-Alfano.
After speaking with her grandmother, Johnson-Alfano realized she had to keep her head up and work, which led to her becoming a live-in nanny for a family of lawyers. The family was impressed by Johnson-Alfano and encouraged her to go back to college at night to work towards her degree. Johnson-Alfano returned to St. Joseph’s University at night and was put on a six-year graduation plan.
Johnson-Alfano graduated and was then accepted into Temple Law School, where she became one of the first people in Temple ‘s history to graduate with a law degree, an MBA and a master’s in tax.
“That was hard. But you know what? I had a lot of people in my camp that supported me in law school, my professors who again saw something in me and I ended up graduating and getting a job out of law school,” said Johnson-Alfano.
Her job out of law school was as an Assistant Solicitor in the major tax unit in Philadelphia. During her six years in that position, Johnson-Alfano litigated over 800 cases.
“But there was something in my spirit that said, I want to do more, that that was my childhood dream,” said Johnson-Alfano.
She ended up starting her own practice, which she successfully managed while participating in United States of America Pageants. She acted as Ms. Pennsylvania in 2020 and competed for the title of Ms. Universe from 2021 to 2022.
Johnson-Alfano spoke on how being a leader was helpful in all her accomplishments. She commented on specific aspects of leadership such as authenticity and empathy, and she interacted with the crowd to discuss the key parts of leadership.
The speech was wrapped up by Johnson-Alfano sharing her main takeaways for the audience and tips on how to live a fearless life. They included having tangible goals, being honest with yourself in how you make decisions, valuing your opinion as the most important, making your own choices, not being afraid to make mistakes or to try new things, not making excuses for yourself, and helping and supporting other people.
The audience then asked questions for Johnson-Alfano. One student asked how one could lean into their authentic self despite finding themselves alienated for it. Johnson-Alfano said that they should surround themselves with people who will support them. Johnson-Alfano expressed that people should put themselves somewhere where they can flourish instead of being stifled.
Another student asked how Johnson-Alfano managed her time while completing her triple degrees during law school. She answered that the key was to be strategic and get help from others like professors and administrators.
Johnson-Alfano ended the event by thanking those in attendance before mingling with audience members one-on-one for further questions.