Find your passion. Start today to make your goals a reality. Surround yourself with positive people.
Those were the three pieces of advice offered yesterday by Marina Harrison, Miss Maryland USA 2005, who addressed hundreds of students at two assemblies celebrating Black History Month at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia - where nearly 36 percent of the 1,400- student population is black.
"One thing I tell myself every day is, `I can be whatever I want to be someday - someday - but if I really want it - really, really want it - I gotta start today, today, today,' " said Harrison, who told the packed auditorium to follow along with her.
Harrison, 24, a community outreach specialist for the State Department of Education, was the keynote speaker at the school's celebration that also featured students honoring notable black leaders, entertainers and writers, including authors Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes, Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, and actor Ossie Davis, who died this month.
During the assemblies, senior Kelie Darbouze read Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman," which includes the lines:
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips
The stride of my steps
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
On stage, four students sat around a table and talked about a unifying ideal that has brought much success for blacks: No matter your color, if you try hard enough, you can achieve your goals.
It was a theme repeated by Harrison, who graduated from Meade High School in Anne Arundel County and the University of Maryland, College Park.
"I'm not here to talk to you about just African-American history month," she said. "What we've learned in hearing those profiles is about personal achievement."
Harrison, who lives in Baltimore, told the students of her pageant experience - of how she entered her first competition, Miss College Park, in 2002 to earn college scholarship money. She was crowned Miss Maryland in 2003.
That state title enabled Harrison to compete in the Miss America competition, where she was an advocate for public education and came in third among 51 contestants.
She earned more than $52,000 in scholarships through competitions.
When her stint as Miss Maryland ended in June, Harrison decided to switch to another national pageant, Miss USA. She was crowned Miss Maryland USA in December, becoming the first person to represent the state in both pageants.
Harrison will compete in the Miss USA pageant in April at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre.
Although Harrison became involved in pageants to earn scholarship money, the experience has created other opportunities and given her skills she hopes will help her to reach her ultimate goal: to become a White House press secretary.
Harrison, who smiled easily and drew laughs and applause throughout her presentations, encouraged students to find something they love doing, build on it each day and hang out with supportive people who believe in their dreams.
"My passion is talking," said Harrison, who has used that interest to earn a bachelor's degree in public relations and a job as a spokeswoman for a state education department program that publicizes good news about Maryland schools, students and teachers.
Sophomore Zuri Chavers, 16, told Harrison that her message resonated with him.
"I'm a talkative person," said Zuri, who organized an after-school club for poetry and rap. "I use my energy to make something creative and useful. I found my passion in poetry and music."
After the last assembly, Harrison also spoke to about 25 black female students involved in a mentoring and empowering program.
She told them about her personal challenges, such as being accused of acting too white during her middle school years, and her family's struggles in the civil rights movement.
"You never want to fall short of your full potential," she said.
Sophomore Cherelle Anderson, 16, said she felt motivated by the visit, and that Harrison encouraged her to sing a song the teen had written.
"She inspired me to do better in school and achieve my goals," Cherelle said.