Katherine Johnson’s legacy still lives on.
The late mathematician, who died in February 2020 at age 101, is well-known for solving some of the most complex mathematical equations while working at NASA from 1953 to 1986 and breaking barriers during segregation in America.
In honor of Women's History Month, TODAY's Sheinelle Jones spoke to Boykin about how she's keeping Johnson's memory alive — and how she has a deep love for math, just as her great-grandmother did.
Boykin shares a passion for math with Johnson
Boykin, who's in 7th grade, couldn't hide her excitement when talking about her long-time love for math.
"For as long as I can remember, I’ve always excelled in it. Honestly, the more complex the problem, the better, the bigger rush I get when I get it right," she said.
Boykin says that she lives by her great-grandmother's motto: "Do your best." That motto once helped her ace the math portion of a standardized test that she took in school.
"I wanted to do my very best, like she always would tell me," Boykin said. "I thought I was gonna get like a 500 or better."
However, she surpassed her own expectations with a perfect score of 600 — and she couldn't wait to tell Johnson.
"She was proud of me," Boykin recalled. "I could tell she was happy."
"Hidden Figures" opened Boykin's eyes to Johnson's accomplishments
While Boykin was growing up, she saw her great-grandmother as a beloved family member who loved doing crossword puzzles. But Boykin didn't realize the full extent of her great-grandmother's accomplishments until she saw the 2016 drama "Hidden Figures," famously known for telling Johnson's story.
The film showed how Johnson, played by Taraji. P. Henson, and two other African American women, Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Jackson (Janelle Monáe), struggled to break barriers at NASA while helping design the tracking system that launched the US into space and brought astronaut John Glenn safely back to Earth.
"After the movie came out, that’s when I was like, wow, my grandma really did all this stuff," she said. "Honestly, I was in awe on how smart she was."
Johnson's calculations were so spot on that Glenn famously asked her if she could backcheck the math of where he would land right before he launched.
"I don’t believe he knew her by name," Johnson's daughter, Joylette Hylick, told TODAY. "I believe he knew her reputation. Because she said, 'I always did my best.'"
Hylick believes that Johnson's humbleness made her unaware of how much of a trailblazer she really was.
"She said, 'I was just doing my job. And I did it well,'" Hylick recalled.
Johnson's legacy continues to live on
It's been two years since Johnson's death, but her legacy lives on through her story and achievements that has and will continue to inspire future generations — including Boykin.
After receiving her perfect score, Boykin gave credit to her great-grandmother during a school assembly.
"I would really like to thank my great grandmother, Katherine Johnson, a special thanks for inspiring me and a whole generation of young people to achieve our dreams," Boykin said.
Hylick says "the sky is limit, the moon is limit" when it comes to what Boykin will achieve in the future.
"I don’t know if I’m gonna work at NASA or anything like she did," Boykin said during the interview. "But math definitely will always be with me as I get older," Boykin said of her future.