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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Prepping Students for Their First Big Interview

Daniel (not his actual name) walks over to the round table where I’m seated, introduces himself as we shake hands. I invite him to sit down as he slides his resume over to me. 

The young man in business attire is a junior at Centennial High School.  Clearly, he is already accomplished in his 16-plus years and perhaps a bit too much to fit on a single page of his resume. 

Beneath his name and contact information, Daniel lists his goals, academic achievements, job experiences, extracurricular activities and skills.  I explain to him that he needs to prioritize his listed experiences and offer suggestions to do so.  He should emphasize achievements and tailor his resume to the type of interview he will be engaged in; i.e. college admissions or job. For example, if the purpose is for a college admission, emphasize academic achievements sports teams and other extracurricular activities before listing his part-time jobs.

I stress the importance of confining his resume to one page as interviewers prefer single-page resumes and tend to see these documents as snapshots of the applicant’s life with any questions to be covered by the interview itself.

Meghan (also not her actual name) has her resume in fine order but when the interview begins, I notice her eyes wandering around and not focused on the interviewer.

The 8 to 10-minute interview consists of a series of questions to determine the student’s aspirations, how others would describe them and how they would describe themselves, his or her accomplishments and challenges, their favorite subjects in schools and least favorites and why and other pertinent questions likely to appear in an interview such as this.  At its conclusion, I go over an evaluation form and critique the student’s responses, the delivery, appropriateness of attire and demeanor and offer suggestions.

In Meghan’s interview, I stress the importance of maintaining eye contact with the interviewer.  By doing so, it displays interest in the proceedings, confidence, trustworthiness and honesty—character traits that are highly coveted and revered by personnel specialists who are evaluating a plethora of candidates. I urge her to practice in a mirror as that exercise will serve her well.

To meet the state’s career development requirements for high schools, Howard County schools mandate juniors to go through this process as a necessity for graduation. Over two dozen volunteers from various walks of life conduct the mock interviews and resume assessments. We offer valuable advice and where necessary, criticism, to help prepare the students for the real world experiences.

The program is typically organized and coordinated by the school’s guidance office. Through English classes at Centennial High School, all participants have completed their resumes that they may use for summer employment, internships, and college applications. 

In a competitive world every students needs an edge to make them stand out among the others. The junior interview program at Howard County high schools has for decades provided the students with this needed tool to help realize their full potential.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Gay Christian Delivers Heavenly Performance on ‘Idol’

Catonsville’s Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon inspires while earning the gold ticket to Hollywood.

The production staff at American Idol knew what they were doing by saving the best for last. On the March 10 audition episode, lanky red-headed, square-jawed Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon was introduced as a contestant before the three-judge panel consisting of Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.  He connected immediately with Perry as they both are PK’s—pastors’ kids. 
Just prior to his performance in New York, viewers saw a beautifully filmed profile package showing Harmon sweeping and mopping floors and singing in empty rooms in a Catonsville, Md. church where he is a janitor. His father is the pastor of that church.  

During this segment it was revealed that he is gay and coming out to his family three years ago did not go too well. “The consensus seemed to be that this is not a path that I should follow,” Harmon said.  He first realized he was gay when he was 9 years old when he had a crush on another guy in youth camp.

Growing up as a pastor’s kid presented a significant challenge for Harmon, now 26. “There are certain parts of me that do belong and there are certain parts that don’t belong.”

He added, “There’s times when I do feel alone. The hardest part for me is seeing how difficult it is for my family. I’m hopeful that it’s an experience where we can learn to grow together.”

Harmon told of the song he wrote called “Almost Heaven,” which was performed at the audition. “Almost Heaven is about questioning if there’s a place for me and people like me in Heaven,” he explained.

He sat behind a piano and performed this poignant ballad displaying his vocal prowess that spans multiple registers. The judges enthusiastically applauded him. “Those were some serious chords,” Perry declared. “You know how good you are?”

“You need to lose the broom, my friend,” Richie advised as he compared Harmon to Billy Joel.

“I’ve got a loft in Nashville. You can just live there for a year,” said Bryan.

Incredulous that he actually wrote the song himself, it was clear that the judges would unanimously vote him on to Hollywood handing him that coveted gold ticket for the next round of the competition.

As stated earlier, Harmon had to pursue his musical interests and hone his talents amid the tension of growing up gay in a devout Christian household. “My parents considered reparative therapy when I came out to them,” Harmon told me during a telephone interview.

“They gave me resources about various centers but I chose not to do it. I know I wasn’t going to change and didn’t want to change. I was accepting myself and all aspects of my personality and sexuality.” Harmon, who is in a relationship, said his parents were disappointed by his decision not to change.

His experience at the audition in New York was not met with any negativity.  Harmon was accompanied by his boyfriend throughout the day, and he hung out with other contestants who treated him like anybody else.

Followers of Harmon on social media have been heaping praise upon him for his stunning performance and his courage in revealing his sexuality in front of a national television audience. Many such comments came from young LGBTQ kids who saw his bravery and the judges again weighed in.

“I see myself as an artist and want to be transparent about my emotional circumstances,” says Harmon. “Whatever I’m going through now will be received by other people through my music.”

“I cannot express enough how proud I am of Jeremiah,” said Elliot Hefty, a student at the University of Maryland and a friend of Harmon.  

“When I first met him he was a heartbroken, grief-stricken gay Christian young man who shared his story, which I could very much relate to. We met at a monthly LGBTQ Christian dinner group in our local area of Howard County, Md. But what’s so spectacular about his heart is his undying love for his family.

“To me Jeremiah represented all the broken-hearted PK’s and queer church boys through his boldness and letting the music flow from his soul. He is bringing awareness to this issue and healing to the LGBTQ Christian community. I’m so glad to call him my friend. And his talent is self-evidently incredible.”

"I know I wasn’t going to change and didn’t want to change."

Rod Snyder who at the same age as Harmon was a contestant on Season 4 of American Idol but came out as gay a decade afterwards. He grew up in a fundamentalist church in West Virginia.  Snyder saw himself as he watched Harmon during the audition. 

“Nearly 15 years later, I’m watching a young man start his own Idol journey, and I couldn’t be more moved by his story and his courage to tell it,” wrote Snyder on Facebook. “It requires an immense amount of grace to go on national television and communicate so clearly about faith, sexuality and family.

"Jeremiah says, 'All of my religion has been stripped down to I love you no matter what.’ What I would have given to hear those words at age 25, let alone speak them. Jeremiah is already my American Idol.”

As he proceeds through the various stages of the competition, Harmon has a chance to make history.  Acknowledging there has never been an out LGBT winner on American Idol, Harmon points out, "I think I have just as good a chance of winning as anyone."

By the reaction to his magnificent audition, I wouldn't bet against him.

UPDATE: He was eliminated a couple of weeks before the finals. The judges, who fawned all over him during the competition and could have "saved" him from elimination, chose not to do so.

The video of Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon’s American Idol audition is shown below.