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Katherine Johnson Quotes

Katherine JohnsonKatherine Johnson quotes: the mathematician’s most shared quotes.

“Once you took the first step, anything was possible.”

“Follow your passion.  Whatever you’re doing, do your best at all times and make it as correct as possible.  Work as if someone is watching you.  Then you’ll be prepared when an opportunity presents itself.  And you’ll have the answers.”

“Like what you do, and then you will do your best.”

“I found what I was looking for at Langley.  This was what a research mathematician did.  I went to work every day for 33 years happy.  Never did I get up and say, ‘I don’t want to go to work.'”

“Take all the courses in your curriculum.  Do the research.  Ask questions.  Find someone doing what you are interested in!  Be curious!”

“I was excited at something new, always liked something new, but give credit to everybody who helped.  I didn’t do anything alone but try to go to the root of the question and succeeded there.”

“I liked working with smart people.”

“All of the work I did was as part of a team.  One of my greatest joys was rolling up my sleeves and working side by side with other brilliant people.  It’s a sign of my belief in my own gifts that I’m the first to call attention to the work of others.”

“All jobs are important to somebody.  They had to be important to somebody.  My theory is, do the best you can all the time.  No fooling around.”

“My dad taught us, ‘You are as good as anybody in this town but you’re no better.'”

“Many professors tell you that you’d be good at this or that, but they don’t always help you with that career path.”

“Go see Hidden Figures and take a young person.  It will give a more positive outlook on what is possible if you work hard, do your best, and are prepared.”

“Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing.  Sometimes they have more imagination than men.”

“We needed to be assertive as women in those days—assertive and aggressive—and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were.  I had to be.”

“I had a very, very interesting childhood, but, oh my, education was the primary focus in our family.”

“I skipped though grades to graduate from high school at 14, from college at 18.  While I skipped grades in school, my parents made sure I stayed grounded.”

“I counted everything.  I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed… anything that could be counted, I did.  Those thoughts just came naturally.”

“[On what math means to her] It’s just there.  You can’t do anything without it.  It’s in everything.  I like to work problems.  If you do your best, nobody can ask you to do it over again.  I never had to repeat what I did.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time tutoring kids in math as a volunteer.  I’ve always enjoyed helping people understand what they can find in math.  There’s no judgment there.”

“From time to time I’ve spoken to school groups about my work at NASA.  I’ve also been active in my church and my sorority [Alpha Kappa Alpha].  I like to play bridge and other games that involve math.”

“I’ve told my grandchildren, ‘First you learn how to work the problem, and then you can go use the computer.’  I never liked that they could use a computer to find the answer.”

“We will always have STEM with us.  Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering and technology.  And there will always, always be mathematics.  Everything is physics and math.”

“In math, you’re either right or you’re wrong.”

“I like to learn.  I’m always interested in learning something new.  That’s an art and a science.”

“I see a picture right now that’s not parallel, so I’m going to go straighten it.  Things must be in order.”

“Everything was so new—the whole idea of going into space was new and daring.  There were no textbooks, so we had to write them.”

“They let women do some things at NASA… and it’s not because we wear skirts, it’s because we wear glasses.”

“I believed I was where I was supposed to be of my career in the space program.  When I was a student, my mentor told me I’d make a good research mathematician.  I said, ‘What is that?’ and he told me I’d have to find out for myself.  At NASA, I happened to be at the right place at the right time.  When you put bright people in a room and they had something to do, they worked on it until they got it done.  But honestly, it was never work to me.”

“We put in some long hours at times, and I had three children at home.  But they were very responsible, and I had family and friends who helped look after them.”

“Even as a professional in an integrated world, I had been the only black woman in enough drawing rooms and boardrooms to have an inkling of the chutzpah it took for an African American woman in a segregated southern workplace to tell her bosses she was sure her calculations would put a man on the moon.”

“I considered my work on the Apollo moon missions to be my greatest contribution to space exploration.  There had been little time to worry about the issues common in my era, such as misogyny and racism.”

“As a computer, I calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space.  Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that I personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight… the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth.  I did the calculations to put him into orbit.  NASA began using computers, but the astronauts were used to somebody doing the calculations.  John Glenn said, ‘What did the girl get?  If she agrees with the computer, then I’ll trust the computer.’  I was able to work out the calculation several places past the decimal point, and he said okay to the mission.”

“Let me do it.  You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I’ll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.”

“I was just excited to have challenging work to do and smart people to work with.”

“I don’t have a feeling of inferiority.  Never had.  I’m as good as anybody, but no better.”

“I’m just lucky.  The Lord likes me.  And I like him.”

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