Then and Now: Hill Harper

Hill Harper—Award-winning actor, best-selling author, philanthropist, youth development activist, NHS alumnus, and spokesperson for the NHS and NJHS Honor Your Future Now campaign

Hill Harper is a National Honor Society alumnus who has gone on to achieve some incredible things. Harper has starred in various television series, such as the CBS TV dramas CSI: NY and Limitless, as well as USA’s Covert Affairs. He can also be seen co-starring alongside Will Smith in the feature film Concussion, released in December 2015.

Harper is the author of four New York Times best-sellers and has earned seven NAACP Image Awards for his writing and acting. He is also the founder of the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation (www.mydf.org), dedicated to empowering underserved youth through mentorship, scholarship, and grant programs.

Harper graduated magna cum laude as valedictorian of his department with a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and cum laude from Harvard Law School. He also holds a master’s degree with honors from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Harper travels frequently as a motivational speaker, addressing a wide range of audiences including youths, adults, couples, and business leaders.

Advise recently asked Harper about his experiences as a student, where he finds inspiration and motivation, and what advice he has for students today.

Advise: What areas were you most passionate about as a student at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, CA?

Hill Harper: I enjoyed English, history, and art classes. They allowed me to learn from the past and be creative in the present.

Advise: How did your time as a National Honor Society member in high school prepare you for your college experiences?

HH: The pillars of the Honor Societies not only served me well for college, but also for life: character, scholarship, leadership, service, and citizenship. Striving for excellence in these areas of my life has helped me achieve goals that I could have never even imagined when I was younger. It is true that there is nothing that any of us can’t do or achieve. If you can dream it, you can achieve it.

Advise: You hold three Ivy League degrees. At what point in your youth did you realize that a good education is the cornerstone for success?

HH: For as long as I can remember, my parents always emphasized education as the foundational element of building a successful life. Just like their parents, my parents used education to further their lives.

Advise: When did you know acting was the career path you wished to pursue?

HH: I knew that I loved acting when I took acting classes in college. However, I didn’t decide to pursue acting as a career until I was doing my joint master’s and law school program at Harvard. I acted throughout grad school and realized that upon graduation I would continue to study acting and act as a career.

Advise: During your middle/high school years, was there a particular teacher or adviser who inspired or influenced you most directly?

HH: I went to public schools and had so many excellent teachers, but the ones I remember most are those who always challenged me to do better, work harder, and work smarter. I was very blessed.

Advise: What was the impetus to set up the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation?

HH: I wanted to use proceeds from my books to turn many of the things I talk about in them into action for young people from communities that are traditionally underserved.

Advise: What was the inspiration for your first book? What gave you the drive to continue your efforts as an author?

HH: I was given books as gifts when I was a young man that were incredibly valuable and transformational for me. Then I began to notice that there were so few motivational books that would speak to the young men of today. And at the same time, so many young men would come up to me asking real questions about that transition from being a young adult into manhood. Many were growing up without positive male role models around to help make those life decisions at a crucial time in their lives. So I wrote a book to serve as mentorship on paper. I am very proud of the impact Letters to a Young Brother has had.

Advise: Between your roles as actor, author, and philanthropist, is there a role you find to be the most fulfilling/rewarding?

HH: I always seek to do projects that will have a positive legacy and a positive impact. Whether it’s a book, movie, TV show, play, or motivational speech, the goal is to have the impact last beyond the experience of the viewer, and in turn, impact them positively. It doesn’t always happen with every project, but I shoot for that.

Advise: You’re friends with President Obama. Do you have any interest in entering the political arena yourself?

HH: Since I have been so blessed, I want to serve people and give back in whatever way I can. Whether it is through philanthropy or politics, I will always seek out ways to serve and give back.

Advise: If you were going to impart advice and guidance to the secondary level students of today, what would you share?

HH: Education is the most important foundational element that will determine your options and earning potential in the future. Invest in yourself by investing in your education.

Advise: What is your personal motto?

HH: FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real … so feel the fear, and do it anyway! —