Keith Hawkins captivates students

Leanne Haas, co-editor in chief

It was a Tuesday. It was seven in the morning. It was drizzling outside. Rain fell lightly and laid its icy sting upon the skin of students entering the school.

Sleepy-eyed teenagers made their way through the dim hallways- some quiet, some walking with their heads down. Of course, this was a typical winter morning for most kids. But some students had a reason for keeping their heads down. Some may have had reason to cry, even, but didn’t.

Had the events to come that day occurred the day before, sulking students may have come to school with their heads down to be greeted by fellow students eager to help, listen, and encourage them.

But, it was a cold Tuesday morning, and Tomball High School had not yet been graced by a special guest who was to change the entire school’s attitude.

There was talk of a motivational speaker coming to Tomball going around school before the bell even rang. The rumor intrigued students, who could be heard as they passed by doorways to go to class.

For most, this was a conversation to be overheard and enjoyed by those who coveted being able to skip their first few periods of class to sit in the gym with their friends. For others, it was an opportunity to catch up on sleep.

Students patiently waited in their first period classes. Yes, it was an ordinary Tuesday- up until eight o’clock.

The first classes released were the juniors and sophomores, who piled into the gym noisily until Principal Quinn spoke into the microphone. The crowd quieted down as he introduced Keith Hawkins.

Keith started off his speech with jokes, reeling in even the hard-to-please kids with his relatable humor that somehow left everyone with a lesson learned.

“Man, this guy’s good” became a commonly used phrase throughout the assembly through whispers. But then, he talked about real issues, things people don’t always like to talk about: the ugly truth.

He spoke to the audience of teens with respect, like they mattered, really mattered. He recognized the hurt in people, the hurt that everyone has inside themselves, but don’t reveal.

It occurred to many that day that, despite the fact that there lay in front of them a community of over a thousand teenagers, many felt completely alone.

“It opened up my eyes to realize that even people I “hate” go through the same hardships I do,” said sophomore Krista Kibodeaux.

Keith brought the school together. That morning, it did not matter who you were or what you looked like. If you were human, you mattered. And the speech was for the teachers as much as it was for the students.

Keith pulled out one certain student in the first assembly.

“He had made eye contact with me a few times prior to him calling me down” David Arlen said, “So, I had a weird feeling I’d be picked on for something”.

He picked him out of the crowd to come to the microphone, asking for the kid with “sick hair”. He asked him three questions. The last one, however, seemed to surprise David- he asked him if there was one person in the assembly that day who had made an impact on his life.

David hesitated, trying to think of a student. He didn’t know many kids in the school well enough to pick out a certain person. But then, he raised the microphone to speak,

“Mrs. Harden”.

David picked her because last year was his first year at Tomball.

“She was just always interested in how I was doing and really made me feel important when no one else was,” he said, “She was just there no matter what”.

Keith even made himself vulnerable, sharing with students his hardships throughout his childhood and teen years, having to live in the back of a U-haul truck at one point while in high school. He wanted the students to know that they were not alone- that there was hope for them.

This was not Keith’s first encounter with Tomball students, however. Over the summer, seniors Anna Liu and Kelsey Zalesak attended the The National Association of Student Council (NASC) in Yukon, Oklahoma.

Keith was a keynote speaker at the convention. One thing stood out to them most of all. He told the assembly that every day when his children get home from school, he doesn’t ask them how their day went. He asks them, “Who did you help today?”

“He was compelling because he spoke from the heart” said Liu, who believes Keith got to her because he was so “real” with the students he spoke to.

His speech left such an impact on the girls, and Mrs. Dio as well, that they were determined to get him to come speak at Tomball. Dio went right up to Keith Hawkins and told him, “We need you”.

And that was the start of it, right there. Inspired by Keith’s speech to make a difference in their school and become more aware of others, the school year to come started with a positive goal of student council’s: “Who have you helped today?”. The slogan’s message gained the most momentum, however, after Keith visited Tomball.

“People have a need for support, understanding, and forgiveness” said Keith, when asked why he felt his speech was so effective on teens.

“I walk down the hall and see the downcast eyes and hear negative talk, and I know that every student in Tomball High School has a story that the rest of us haven’t taken the time to hear,” said English Teacher Maggie Harden, “ When we left the assembly, I saw and heard a difference in the halls”.

Keith said, however, that his goal was not to come to Tomball to change anyone, but to “get people to think about what they do and why they do it.”

After hearing Keith speak on Tuesday, junior Helene Weedn posted on Facebook, “As I sit in this class and look at my peers, I think to myself, ‘I know all of them’. But why don’t I talk to them, why don’t I try to help them?”

On Thursday, student council had red bracelets made with the slogan printed in big white letters. Students shook hands with each other as a deal to keep their pledge and were given stickers to sign after receiving their bracelets.

“The challenge is that we keep doing these things” said Quinn, who sees this new positive influence in the school as an opportunity to create a tradition.

“In my old school, we would have a speaker come and give a great speech. The next day, it would be as if nothing happened. Here at Tomball, I can truly see a change”, said sophomore Gabriel Gach.

The glass atrium windows by the cafeteria are covered in hundreds of names- they are a daily reminder of the promising future of Tomball. They symbolize dedication to each other, as students, to never forget that at the end of the day, everybody is human, everybody hurts, and a helping hand is always needed.