Hill Harper, an actor and author, wandered the aisles at the Wheelock College auditorium today, as high school students scribbled on pieces of paper.
"Write down a golden dream you have for your life," Harper said. "It can be anything!"
He joked with one student about her blank paper, then asked others what might stand in the way of their hopes--other people, they suggested, or fear of actually succeeding.
Harper then asked the crowd of about 500 Boston-area high school students and other guests to draw a box around their goal, then draw an arrow going up, and "double your goals and dreams."
This exercise was part of Wheelock College’s 2010 Youth Symposium, “Bridges to Our Future: The Next Generation of Leaders,” where students heard words of encouragement and advice from a host of public figures.
Harper (he stars on "CSI:NY" and holds degrees from Brown University and Harvard Law School) was the keynote speaker at the event, with students asked to read two of Harper’s books, "Letters to a Young Brother" and "Letters to a Young Sister," as part of a pre-symposium curriculum.
Hill was joined onstage by Wheelock president Jackie Jenkins-Scott, Harvard Law Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., and NECN anchor Latoyia Edwards, who served as moderator.
The conversation covered topics ranging from being raised by single parents, the importance of going to college, relationships, hip hop, and Hollywood. Hill said the entertainment industry can "push fear," using the dead bodies on his own show as an example, and advised students on standardized test-taking (his tip: get prior tests and take them until you get all the answers right).
Ogletree and Harper emphasized the importance of mentors, using President Barack Obama--Harper's classmate and Ogletree's student at Harvard Law--as an example.
"I looked up to him, and not just because he's taller than me," Harper said of Obama, whom he met on the basketball court. He said he admired Obama for going back to school because "his education wasn't big enough to support the size and scope of his dreams."
Obama "wouldn't be president but for this man here," Harper said, gesturing to Ogleetree, who served as an advisor during the 2008 campaign.
"No one gets there on their own," he said.
"When I say you can be Hill Harper, when I say you can be Barack Obama...you can," Ogletree told the crowd. "It's within you to do that."
An important part of his ownsuccess, Ogletree said, was "exceeding my expectations and not being embarrassed about it."
The crowd murmured and nodded in assent.
The symposium was also attended by Boston mayor Tom Menino and Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama's "drug czar." Kerlikowske talked briefly about the disease of addiction and the role students could play in addressing the public health problem, while Menino praised Edwards and former broadcast journalist Liz Walker, who was also in the crowd, as examples of success.
"You have opportunities in this city," Menino told the students.
The Young Kings, a musical group from Boston Renaissance Charter Public School, ended the program with music and a recitation of the Rudyard Kipling poem "If."
In 2007, Archbishop Desmond Tutu attended Wheelock’s first Youth Symposium, which was the school said was the first event in Boston “to bring together middle and high school students from public, pilot, charter and independent schools.”
College Bound Dorchester students Andre Smith, 15, and Imani Cardwell, 14, said they enjoyed the presentation, though Smith said he he disagreed with some of Harper's points. Smith said good goals would be to "finish high school and get a job you enjoy."
Cardwell said she wrote down her goals during Harper’s exercise: to finish high school and go to Spelman College. While she isn’t sure about her career goals, “I don’t want to be famous,” Cardwell said. “I just want to be rich.”
(Bill Brett/Globe Staff)