ELKHART — Students at Elkhart Central High School may have more in common than they realized.
Dozens of hands shot up Wednesday in the school’s auditorium when they were asked if they came from a broken home. The same happened when asked if they know of peers who have done drugs and alcohol, or had suicidal thoughts.
“Just know that you aren’t alone – we’re all beautifully broken someway and somehow and we’re better together,” motivational speaker Nathan Harmon told a crowd of 700 junior and seniors on Wednesday.
The 33-year-old held nothing back as he told the students his life story. He spoke of his hurts from his past, which included his parents getting a divorce, which led him to eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and drug addictions.
Harmon said he wore a “mask” to help him cope with most of his pain, especially in social settings.
“Some of us wear this mask and act like everything is OK, but when no one else is around, we’re not OK,” he said. “I didn’t want to deal with my real hurts and pains so it was easier for me to act like everything was peachy and perfect. But behind the mask, I was screaming, but I was silent. I thought the mask was keeping me safe and would protect me from being embarrassed. I thought it’d protect me from anyone hurting or breaking my trust. I didn’t know as a young man that it’s OK to not be OK.”
Harmon eventually made a decision that forever changed his life.
On July 17, 2009, Harmon crashed a vehicle while under the influence, killing passenger and close friend Priscilla Owens.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released after three years and nine months.
From there, he decided to turn his life around. The Owens family eventually forgave him.
He has been completely drug-free and sober for 10 years now.
He became a speaker and created a motivational program called, “Your Life Speaks,” for school-age people touching on serious issues and reminding the young audiences how they can overcome them.
Harmon encouraged the students Wednesday to look at their lives, friends and dreams. He also stressed the importance of their self-worth and letting them know that they can achieve whatever they put their mind to.
“We all want to accomplish and do amazing things, but it’s never going to be given to you,” he said. “A lot of us know that especially because of our culture and our upbringing that we got to work and grind and persevere through challenging issues.
“But I promise you that it doesn’t matter about the shining things, what we have or don’t have. It doesn’t matter about the glitz or the glamour, it matters about our heart,” he continued. “I guarantee all you here as you begin to end your high school days and launch off to the next chapter in your life, at the end of the day, there won’t be a teacher, principal, counselor, friend or parent – there’s no one who can hold you back from your destiny except you.”
He concluded his speech by telling the upperclassmen to seek purpose, not profit, as they prepare to embark on their next chapter after high school.
“Passion and purpose will always produce gains and profits socially, emotionally and financially,” he said.
Tony England, assistant superintendent of student services at Elkhart Community Schools, said he believes Harmon’s message resonated well with the students.
“I think his speech really touched on how to make sure to take care of yourself, and to identify if you’re having issues with mental health or having issues with thoughts that are negative about yourself – about suicide, drug use, alcohol or any of those things to get help, and we’re here to help.”
England said the district had social workers available to be with students who were moved by Harmon’s speech and could get services right away.
“We really want the students to know that their life speaks,” England said of the students. “And they’re really important to their future and our future as a community.”
Harmon’s speech was sponsored by the Elkhart Education Foundation.
“The Elkhart Education Foundation was proud to sponsor a compelling speaker to talk to Elkhart Community School students about the tough issues that face them on a daily basis,” said Ashley Boling Molyneaux, the foundation’s director. “We want to give our students the tools to succeed not only academically but emotionally and socially.”