ARLINGTON — Fourth and fifth graders at Fisher Elementary on Wednesday welcomed a special guest speaker who talked to them about respect, and what it means to be a leader.

William Harris, a former All-American basketball player and current motivational speaker who lives in Middlebury, has spoken with athletes at Arlington Memorial Middle and High School multiple times in the past, and is currently working with AMHS Principal Tim Stewart on a program in which he works with small groups of middle school students.

"You are the oldest in the school," Fisher Principal Deanne Lacoste told students when introducing Harris, "I expect you to be the what? The role models!"

"The experience here is the beginning," Harris told the students, "This is where you establish a positive foundation that will help you progress up the educational ladder and become better people. This is where you become who you are going to be. This is where it all begins."

He encouraged the students to engage with their educators and peers, to ask questions, and, of course, to always finish their homework. "Remember the five P's," he told the assembled students, "Proper preparation prevents poor performance. No one should ever fail a class. If you're failing? Laziness, neglect. If you're struggling, go to your educator. Educators don't fail students. Students fail themselves."


"Can everybody be a straight-A student?" he asked. "No, of course not. But everyone can be a good student."

"My dream is real simple," said Harris, who moved to Vermont after his mother, who he described as his hero and his world, passed away in 1999 at the age of 57, "to make a difference in the lives of young people." Harris said he entered the world of motivational speaking to allow her to continue to live on through him, and said that every day he knows she is looking down at him, proud of the work he's doing.

"Follow rules," Harris advised his audience, "because rules will always follow you. Will there be rules you don't like? Of course, but you've got to follow them." If you do break a rule, he said, "Own it. Don't lie if you make a mistake, own up to it and accept the consequences." He warned that social media use can have consequences as well. "If you don't have something nice to say about somebody, don't hit send and send it out there!"

On the subject of respecting one's peers, Harris told the students, "Respect is something that should be given, not earned. Everyone deserves respect." That includes self-respect, he said. "Learn how to love yourself, and feel good about yourself. I don't wait for a kiss good night! I kiss myself good night! 'Mwah, good night, handsome!'" he said, drawing a giggle from the students.

Motivational speaker William Harris speaks to students at Fisher Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon.
Motivational speaker William Harris speaks to students at Fisher Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon. (Holly Pelczynski Bennington Banner)

Leaders, he said, don't let their classmates be bullied, whether that comes in the form of physical, verbal, or even social bullying, where kids are purposely excluded from activities. He said the students should always make themselves available when a friend needs help. "If you see someone being mean tell them to stop," he said, "That's what leaders do. If we truly had leaders, there would be no bullying. Because, you see (bullying), but you don't do anything about it until it happens to you, and then it's too late."

"Life is a one-time journey," Harris said in conclusion, "You get one shot, one opportunity. Don't settle for being mediocre. Don't settle for being average. Don't settle for just getting by. The only thing you should be settling for is greatness."

Harris can be scheduled for events by contacting him at 802-382-9484 or You can also visit his website at

Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.