The chatter of happy students echoed at the Baxter Hood Center at York Technical College as they waited for the program to start.
After all, they had a half day off from school and a free meal.
It wasn’t long before the program’s speaker, Brooks Harper, had them laughing, even singing. When he asked them about the Farmer’s Insurance jingle they sang the dum-dum refrain.
Harper is part comedian, part motivational speaker, with a dash of used car salesman thrown in. With examples, some personal, he told them anything is possible and challenged them to reach for it. Tomorrow starts today, he said.
Representatives Junior Achievement of the Central Carolinas and the S.C. Regional Education Center – organizers of the luncheon – beamed as Harper spoke. It seemed he was connecting with the 200 or so students who represented 15 regional high schools.
At the back of the banquet hall a group of students listened intently. They were different from the others. They were older, students at York Tech. Two of them were old enough to be parents of the teens.
They were the embodiment of what Harper was talking about.
Barbara Lewis and Bernard Feemster are honor students in the school of hard knocks.
Lewis is back at York Tech for a second time. She came there in the late 1970s, early 1980s to learn job skills. Last September she was laid off by Springs Global after 34 years. She is again on campus hoping to find 21st-century skills to land another job.
Feemster is a 10-year veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Feemster liked to jump, but not the ensuing forced marches. He was a telecommunications specialist with the division.
He is applying some of the skills the Army taught him in the classroom, where he is study nursing. He said he hopes his studies will help him manage his post-traumatic stress. Just being in the large, loud room was difficult for Feemster.
When Harper talked about the importance of learning, he could have pointed to Lewis. Even though she has a perfect grade in her classes, she says she will do the extra credit work so she doesn’t miss out on anything.
When Harper talked about diligence, organization and accountability, he could have pointed to Feemster. He’s the father of three girls, two in high school, and he’s back in school himself. “I tell them the sky’s the limit,” Feemster said of his daughters, age 11, 14, and 19.
Harper’s message impressed Lewis and Feemster.
For Lewis, it was his focus on relationships, on how to approach others and made contacts.
For Feemster, it was about the hope Harper instilled.
“No matter how old you are, you can learn, you can live the American dream,” Feemster said.
Harper’s talk is based on his book “7 Skills to Make Mill$.” The premise is to find your passion and turn it into a paycheck. “Be the CEO of your life,” he said.
The seven skills are diligence, organization, leadership, learning, accountability, relationships and speaking. The seven skills combine to form salesmanship, understanding your skills and learning how to sell them to others.
“If you can’t speak, you can’t sell yourself,” Harper said. “It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”
Before the students returned to school there was some class work to do. They were asked to apply what they had just heard: building relationships with the more than 70 business men and women who had donated their time for the banquet.
The business men and women helped the students discuss the traits needed for professional success, how to be professional and responsible with social media, and the value of internships and mentoring relationships.
That session is what Harper and luncheon organizers hope was just the beginning for these students, young and old.
“They need to start now,” Harper said. “Every day is an interview and an opportunity.”
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066 • firstname.lastname@example.org