DIXON – Nathan Harmon’s high school life went from straight A’s to straight F’s in just a couple of years.
It could have been different.
Later, at an age when most college students would be thinking about graduation, Harmon made bad choices behind the wheel that cost his friend, Priscilla Owens, her life, and sent him to jail for reckless homicide.
That could have been different, too.
Those memories are painful, but Harmon – an international speaker and the founder of Your Life Speaks – is not shy about talking about the major mistakes in his life.
With intense pacing and passion, Harmon, 34, shared his mistakes Monday during assemblies at Dixon High School and Reagan Middle School, and offered ways to help students keep from making the same kinds of mistakes in their lives.
He also gave a presentation to parents of Dixon students Monday night about dealing with those same subjects, and will speak to parents and students at Rock Falls Middle School on Tuesday.
Eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, divorced parents, drug addiction: Harmon touched on the roots of his failures – being expelled from school, ending up in prison – which stemmed from trying to hide his emotions and mask his feelings.
“I thought the mask would keep me safe, but the mask that I wore is the very thing that’s making these issues,” he said. “ ... that mask was the very thing that held me hostage.
“The truth is, I wanted to trust people, but I didn’t know if anyone would understand my feelings, my emotions, my scars, and I thought I was strange or different.”
Letting pressure build up and keeping thoughts to yourself leads to anxiety and not handling situations properly, which leads to greater risk for trouble as you get older, he said.
Having the courage to talk to people about problems and establish personal transparency can help others understand and help, he said.
Transparency is one of Harmon’s five habits of heart and mind, along with accountability, hard work, making good choices, and taking care of people.
Trust and overcoming fear always is going to be uncomfortable, Harmon said, but “as long as there is breath in your lungs, there’s hope in your heart.”
Eighth-grader Tyler Shaner was impressed with how openly Harmon could talk to strangers about his struggles.
“It’s hard opening up to people you don’t know,” Tyler said. “He has no connection with any of us. It’s crazy to me.”
“I wouldn’t have done that,” seventh-grader John Godbold added. “It takes courage.”
Eighth-grader Olivia Cox has dealt with many classmates who hide behind a mask of emotions.
“They want to tell people, but they can’t because they’re too scared,” Olivia said. “I try to help them, but sometimes they won’t open up to me or others.”
She has found some success, though, and “I felt good that I could finally help them, and they felt good that they were able to achieve their goals,” she said.
Sixth-grader Zoey Williams learned that no one should dwell on failure, that rebounding quickly will help overcome trouble.
“You can still go,” she said. “If you fail on a test, and you think you can’t do it anymore, you can.”
Harmon’s visits were sponsored by the Sauk Valley Safe Passage Initiative, Dixon Police, the Lee County State’s Attorney’s office and PRISM of Lee County.
“If one person from these presentations can get something out of it, it’s super important,” said Safe Passage program coordinator Alison White, who works with people entering drug treatment.
Nathan Harmon was been America's most booked school speaker from 2017 to 2019, and has more than 150 schools on his schedule this year.
Harmon dealt with drug and other harmful addictions as a young adult, and changed his life around after serving time in prison for reckless homicide.
Find Your Life Speaks on Facebook, @YourLifeSpeaks1 on Twitter, Your_life_speaks on Instagram or go to yourlifespeaks.org to learn more.