Hawkins inspires underclassmen, forms connections at Unity Day

Swasti Singhai, Final Focus Editor

When Keith Hawkins was in high-school more than 30 years ago, as a part of his school’s ASB and leadership programs, he carefully listened to an inspirational speaker from UC Santa Barbara, Phil Boyte. Hawkins absorbed every message, every word. 

“He said something that captured my heart, and I’ll never forget it,” Hawkins said. “He said, ‘It’s not the stuff on the outside that makes you who you are, but it’s what’s on the inside,’ which is kind of ironic because right now, a lot of people and leaders are talking about what we are, you are whatever you define yourself as, but he said it’s not what you are, but who you are, who you choose to be.”

Hawkins adopted this philosophy, that you choose who you want to be, and said it has been valuable to him throughout his life. He became the first kid in his family to pass middle school, the first to graduate from high school, and the first to attend college. 

“I came from an environment where not a lot of people made it,” Hawkins said. “I did something right, and that helped me to get where I am at. I don’t want to say I made it because I’m a man, something I didn’t choose, because I know I made it because I chose to go to school, wake up early, work hard. To me, saying someone made it because of a certain reason takes away all the hard work they’ve done.”

After entering college, Hawkins did an apprenticeship under Boyte. As Boyte was touring schools, Hawkins came with him, speaking more each time. 

“He [Boyte] became my mentor,” Hawkins said. “I saw what he did for me, he made me hopeful and gave me that [hope] and I wanted to do that at my school. So I just started speaking in my school, I ran for president, and I won, and I just started practicing and preaching it [inspirational speaking].”

Later on, Hawkins created a company called Real Inspiration with his wife, Lori.

“We’ve created a program to help people build relationships,” Hawkins said. “And that’s what you see here [at Unity Day] where they’re crying, laughing, thinking, challenging. It’s a different dynamic [than someone speaking for an hour and leaving].”

Hawkins’ programs have developed over time, as he builds on experiences and ideas that he encountered. 

He began visiting schools in the district after his wife met a teacher from Rancho Bernardo High School at CADA, the California Activity Directors’ Convention. 

Hawkins has been involved with Westview since its opening year in 2003. The program originated with a retreat for freshmen and sophomores in ASB in a partnership with then-ASB Director Laurie Norcross. Since then, Hawkins has worked closely with curren ASB Director Dennis Sosnowski and former ASB Director and Assistant Principal Shannon Parker. 

“I used to always go to Black Mountain and Mesa Verde, so I’ve been in this community,” Hawkins said. “But then, I’ll go to Big Bear tomorrow for example, and be in LA on Thursday evening. So it’s a lot of travel and different clientele, but the same heart. Everybody just needs an opportunity [to share and speak].”

One of the main messages Hawkins both teaches and has taken away from Unity Day is being thankful. 

“There was a young man today [March 8] in a wheelchair, smiling and speaking and telling me his life story,” Hawkins said. “He told me how it was really difficult because kids would bully him, and they would wait for him just to make fun of him. He told the group that he knows everyone there is going through things, like he goes through things, but that he wants to tell them that they’re amazing and they should keep going, and keep fighting. That inspires me to create change.”

 Hawkins said that given Westview’s fast-paced, academic nature, the hardest thing for students is to slow down. He said he believes that the landscape and the successes Westview students reach don’t constitute the school.

“It’s the people inside, and when they’re given an opportunity and an environment to express themselves, you see the real person,” Hawkins said. “You see their gifts, and when Westview stops and reflects, that’s when they’re at their greatest self. Stop doing the things you do every day. Create a habit where you take care of yourself and others, and when they do that, great things happen. [Unity Day] is one of those days.”

Susan Jiang (10) attended the second day of Unity Day, and the environment that Hawkins created for students to express themselves changed her viewpoints as well.

“We’ve been classmates with a lot of people even since elementary school, but we’ve never really taken the time to talk or get to know some of them,” Jiang said. “It was inspiring because it was after the activity that he would ask students to stand up if the struggle he listed applied to them. I saw a lot of people stand up, and I’ve known some of them for about 10 years. It really just felt like familiar strangers, and it really opened my eyes to what I didn’t know.”

Another message that Hawkins talks about during Unity Day is the importance of forgiveness. 

“Throughout these 30 years [being an inspirational speaker], something that changed in me for the better was my selfishness,” Hawkins said. “We’re taught to be selfish in a way, in terms of being successful [what appears as striving to be successful]. And you might think it’s just competitive, but thinking about yourself and what you’re going to do starts to make you selfish. And now I’m selfless, so what I find myself doing now is giving people time, support, understanding, inclusion, acceptance, forgiveness. When people don’t accept me, that’s fine. I’m a believer in them, and I will accept them. I’ve just learned to give what I need instead of what people give me.”

As Hawkins continues to inspire, forgive, and speak, he says one of his goals is to increase self-awareness. 

“For example, we were trying to get people to understand about the trash they leave out,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes you don’t understand you’re making it difficult, because that’s their job. But did you know that their mom had cancer? That they could be going through a divorce? If you knew that, you would never make it harder. So just think about how everyone’s already going through something, so you can make it easy on them. Smile, be cool to people. Be good to people, that’s a part of growth. Everyone’s going through something, but they don’t have to do it alone, you don’t have to do it alone.”