FHS Alumna Becomes First Honoree Of School’s Arts Program ‘Wall Of Fame’

Khailah Johnson, center, in white top, surrounded by her family under her plaque on the FHS theatre “Wall of Fame.”

A 2017 graduate of Franklin High School on March 15 became the first member of the school’s “Wall of Fame” for fine, visual and performing arts students.

A plaque honoring the achievement of Khailah Johnson, now a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.., was unveiled at a small ceremony. The plaque is located by the entrance to the school’s theatre.

Johnson was named a “Rising Star” by the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2017 for her portrayal of Delores van Cartier in the FHS production of “Sister Act.”

Paper Mill’s “Rising Star Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theatre” have been awarded since 1996 and are considered among the highest honors a high school musical actor can receive.

The “wall of fame” has been discussed at the high school for more than a year, schools Superintendent John Ravally said on March 15.

“We thought that it was about time we honored our fine and visual arts folks that achieve at such high levels,” Ravally said.

Speaking about the Paper Mill award, Ravally said, “I know those folks travel around to all high schools in the state to evaluate the performances and the stage and the sets, and I know that the standards are rigorous, so for you to have achieved what you achieved is just amazing.”

Tim Walton, who directs the school’s musicals, was on hand for the unveiling.

“I always tell all  my students if you work hard, great things will come, and Khailah definitely did a lot of hard work,” he said.

Johnson’s parents, Phil and Normarie Mclean, said they were proud that their daughter had been honored by her alma mater.

“She’s worked hard and I’m happy that the school made her their inaugural honoree on the wall,” said Phil Mclean. “We’re very appreciative, very proud.”

“We’re just honored and humbled that the school would acknowledge her in this way for her hard work and the school’s hard work,” Normarie Mclean said, “It’s amazing.”

Johnson said she was “humbled” by the honor.

“Its really cool to know that I could be paving the way for other kids in the arts here and to let them know that its achievable and we can continue to do it and go farther and farther,” she said.

Johnson, who has appeared in productions at the Crossroads Theatre and George Street Playhouse, both in New Brunswick, did not audition for an FHS production until “Mary Poppins” in her junior year.

“I went to (Somerset County) Vo-Tech half time, so I didn’t have time to do shows here,” she said. “But then my schedule got a little less hectic, and a bunch of my friends were in the arts program, and doing shows. They wanted me to come out, and I was like, you know, I should. I decided to go out in my junior year.”

Johnson said “Sister Act” was “probably the best two months of my life. It was full of new friendships, which I still have to this day, it was a struggle to learn the music and choreography so quickly, but it was fun.”

“It was a lot of effort, but in the best way possible,” she said. “We had a lot of fun digging into these characters and learning the show together, it was like we were  family.”

The experience of having the lead role in Sister Act also convinced Johnson that she wanted to pursue a career in musical theater, she said.

Johnson with (left to right) Board of Education member Richard Seamon, president Nancy LaCorte, vice president Ardaman Singh, FHS faculty member Tim Walton, and Board of Education members Michelle Shelton and Margaret Steele.

“Being in Sister Act, and having the lead role and all that responsibility, and then me doing it and feeling good about it, it gave me the encouragement that I could do this for the rest of my life, and I want to go to college for it,” she said.

At Carnegie Mellon, where she is studying musical theater, Johnson is among 12 students who were chosen for a program from about 3,000 students who auditioned.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said, laughing. “Every day I’m there I pinch myself. It’s amazing.”

“It’s so much fun to be around amazing and talented people every day, and do what I love every day,” she said. “I sing and dance in my classes, and I have wonderful teachers who are also professional actors, professional working people in the industry, and to learn from them and grow from my peers, it’s awesome.”

Below is a video of the short unveiling ceremony:


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