Shawn Harper inspires Cambridge High School students to overcome obstacles
Cambridge High School students left school this cold winter break with a fire lit inside of them. On Dec. 19, over 400 students from Cambridge High School had the opportunity to listen to the words of former NFL lineman turned successful CEO and internationally acclaimed motivational speaker Shawn Harper. Shawn’s presentation was sponsored by the United Way of Guernsey, Monroe and Noble Counties and the Guernsey County Family & Children First Council.
Shawn’s funny stories mixed in with painful honesty of overcoming learning disabilities, speech impediments and poor grades relating his troubled youth and past allowed him to connect with everyone in the gymnasium as he challenged students to take action and chase their dreams.
Early on Shawn was a failing student and average football player being raised by a single mom fighting to provide for him and his five siblings. Shawn faced an immense amount of challenges being diagnosed with four learning disabilities, fighting speech problems and living in poverty without positive role models. Shawn barely graduated high school, having the lowest grade point average of his graduating class with a 1.9.
The world was against him and Shawn was on his way to becoming another statistic. But Shawn caught a break his senior year when he was noticed by the head coach of North Iowa’s Junior College. That break was the beginning of a turn around for Shawn. Shawn was not given a scholarship, just an invitation to attend North Iowa Junior College for one year and play football for them. Thus began Shawn’s dream to one day play in the NFL. Shawn continued to face obstacles including negativity and bad influences.
Shawn told students stories relating to the people he surrounded himself with, how they would make fun of him for keeping NFL posters on his wall as a symbol of his dream, telling Shawn he would never play in the NFL. Stories of how these same friends would tell Shawn to give up on his dream and go out drinking and doing drugs with them instead.
Shawn had to make the decision to leave friends that didn’t support his dream.
“No joke. Who here has a dream of being in and out of rehab when they’re 30?” was one statement that certainly grabbed everyone’s attention and put the youth into a different mindset.
Shawn later learned of his former best friend, the one he left behind to pursue his dream, and his struggle with drugs leading him in and out of rehab and jail.
Shawn started surrounding himself with people who shared his dream. His tenacity and his ambition pushed him to become a college graduate, a decorated, star athlete receiving Big Ten recognition, an inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame and winner of the National Achievement Award. After playing football for Indiana University, he was drafted into the NFL and continued to play for seven years before retiring.
Executive Director of the United Way of Guernsey, Monroe and Noble Counties, Stephanie Laube stated, “I am proud to sponsor today’s presentation and hope that Shawn’s story inspires us all to be active participants in our life, by the choices we make, to surround ourselves with those who inspire hope and encourage us to pursue our dreams. Shawn’s presentation was very engaging and effective with both the students and adults. His overall message is that the challenges we face (and we all will face challenges) will define our lives by the way we react to those challenges. Will we rise up and meet them – ride through them as Shawn stated – or will we quit? It is the choices we make that will define our lives – the friends we have, who we choose to listen to, how we respond to set back and adversity.”
Laube organizes a Young Professionals Group through the United Way of Guernsey, Monroe and Noble Counties that serves as a mentoring/coaching group for high school students. The United Way Young Professionals Group has been working in area high schools for the past four years preparing students for life after high school. United Way partners with young (and young at heart) professionals working in all fields; and through activities, meetings, tours of local businesses and their culminating Lifestacle, helps local students see themselves in careers available right here in Southeast Ohio – and mentor/coach them to aspire to succeed.
After Shawn’s presentation, the Young Professionals had a surprise for the 18 Cambridge High School students they work with throughout the school year. The students, along with some of the United Way Young Professionals, had the opportunity to eat lunch with Shawn and to ask questions about his life, struggles and ultimate success.
Being a United Way of Guernsey, Monroe and Noble Counties Young Professional does not have to require a large time commitment. Even attending one or two events can have a big impact on the students. Anyone interested in learning more about the Young Professionals program or United Way of Guernsey, Monroe and Noble Counties can contact Stephanie Laube at 740-439- 2667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guernsey County Family & Children First Council is made up local government and social service agencies. The mission of the Guernsey County Family & Children First Council is to ensure an optimal quality of life by meeting the physical, education, emotional, spiritual and economic needs of all children and families. By coordinating the collaborative efforts of its members the Council plans, develops and supports services and opportunities to provide health and well-being in the children and families of Guernsey County.
Shawn’s theme of “You are not born winners or losers; you are born choosers!” was one of empowerment, and for, hopefully, at least some of the Cambridge High School students, a catalyst that will propel them into a promising future.