"Five Things I Wish I Knew in Middle School": Educator, Former NFL DT Shares Advice with Heathwood Students

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Former NFL Defensive Tackle Orien Harris has achieved a lot in his 37 years: a National Championship and an AP All American nod with the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, five years in the NFL, and his current role as the Student Success Coordinator, an English teacher, and a football coach at Atlanta’s Lovett School. But, he told Heathwood’s Middle School students in this year’s Career Day Keynote Speech, he never could have done it alone.

“I owe a lot of my success to the teachers and mentors in my life who showed me if I could see it, I could achieve it,” he said.

That’s just one of the insights Harris shared in his presentation, “The Top Five Things I Wish I knew in Middle School.” Drawing from extensive personal experience, he delineated key steps all middle schoolers can take to achieve their goals and dreams:

  • Be vulnerable: let your teachers, coaches, and mentors see who you really are, so that they can strengthen you and build you up. “As educators, we want you to touch the moon,” he noted.
  • Find someone you can share your dreams with, who will support you in getting there. Recalling how his older brother scoffed (as siblings will) at his dream of attending the University of Miami, Harris described a relationship with a teacher who not only validated his goals but helped put him on a path to achieving them by making him write down everything he was responsible for that could put them within reach.
  • Set goals and give yourself a blueprint: having a plan will help you keep sight of your goals and of set you on a path to achieving them.
  • Read a lot of books, and always stay hungry for knowledge.
  • Get involved: play as many sports as you can, join clubs, explore interests, do everything you can, until you find your passion.

Middle School, Harris said, can be a challenging time in anyone’s life, but it’s also a critical time on our path to success, and the more students take advantage of the opportunities it affords, the better they set themselves up for the future: “Having the support of mentors, teachers, and coaches makes a big difference,” he said, recounting the specific ways several teachers impacted his life. “So put down your defensive walls and let teachers help you.”