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Words of joy and hope at Yankee Hill

Lincoln native, U.S. Army veteran and inspirational speaker/comedian Jarell Roach offered messages of joy, dignity and strength on Tuesday when he spoke to students at Yankee Hill Education Center.

And he left them with a message of hope.

“People have invested time in you because you’re worth it,” Roach said to the roughly 40 students, referring to the dedicated teachers and staff who joined them in the school’s gym for the event.

The program at Yankee Hill is designed for high school students who require more structure and support systems to succeed. The same program is used at the Don Sherrill Education Center for elementary students and at the Nuernberger Center for those in middle school. Each education center’s ultimate goal is for students to return to their home schools.

Roach attended Dawes Middle School and graduated from Lincoln Southeast High School in 2000. He served as a civil engineer in the Army for 13 years and now lives in Bellevue and speaks to various student and community groups.

At Yankee Hill, he shared stories about bad choices he made while at Southeast and how that negatively shaped his younger years. He spoke about a mission trip he recently took to Cuba, where he met an elderly man named Miguel. Roach helped feed and bathe Miguel, who lived in a house the size of a closet yet found joy in the simple fact that he was now clean and wearing a fresh set of clothes.

“It was the first time I had ever been out of this country and not fighting a war and I felt like I was fighting the best battle I ever could fight,” Roach said. “It was literally to give him back his dignity.”

Roach spent more than an hour at Yankee Hill. Before he gave a powerful talk, he drew in the students with jokes and let them have a little fun, too. They played rock-paper-scissor, moving from one person to the next, and tug-of-war, girls vs. boys. (Each side won once)

But Tuesday’s event was mostly about the messages he delivered:

  • “Education never stops, you’ll go K through 12, you’ll go to college, then it’s the rest of your life, it’s everywhere you go. The more that you learn doesn’t mean that you’re better off - it’s how you apply what you know. That’s what I found out. It’s called wisdom.”
  • “You’re trying to figure it out. It’s about how you don’t take things for granted along the way. It’s about you seeing the good along the way, not just focusing on the negative. To forgive some people but also to be forgiven. That’s what grows you - age doesn’t grow you, character grows you. Character is what really matures you.”
  • “You need your dignity back. You deserve it. People are here to serve you and to love you. Put your focus on the things that challenge us to do well, to do good, to make the best out of a situation. You’ll be surprised at the person you’ll become.”
  • “We can only look at our history long enough. It can only make us angry long enough before we say, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ You have a responsibility - not just the adults.”


Published: May 2, 2018, Updated: May 2, 2018

"You’re trying to figure it out. It’s about how you don’t take things for granted along the way. It’s about you seeing the good along the way, not just focusing on the negative. To forgive some people but also to be forgiven. That’s what grows you - age doesn’t grow you, character grows you. Character is what really matures you."

Jarell Roach, Southeast High School alum and inspirational speaker/comedian

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