Some of the brightest students from around the country attended the third annual White House Science Fair on Monday. These kid-innovators competed on a local level and some of the best inventions made it to this event. Nineteen-year-old Anthony Halmon is one of those students whose inspiring story of dedication led him to reach goals further than he ever imagined.
On Saturday's show, host Melissa Harris-Perry spoke to Halmon, and recognized him as her "Foot Soldier" this week. I had the chance to ask him more about his invention, the Thermofier.
Tell me about the Thermofier: What is it, and why did you invent it?
It’s a pacifier with a thermometer in it. I started working on it my junior year (of high school). The Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) organization helped me. They asked me lots of questions, including, "What’s one thing you hate to see your baby daughter go through?" I said, "being sick." Then they asked, “What does she love?" I [told them] pacifiers. They asked me questions like that until I solved the problem myself. They encouraged me to think outside of the box, and create something beneficial for me and many other parents.
I read that when you were younger you were often getting in fights, your grades dropped and you were faced with a difficult lifestyle in Chicago at an early age. How has that impacted and motivated who you have become?
When I was in school I was involved in dangerous activities. It wasn’t until my father passed away, and in the same year my daughter was born, that I made it up in my mind that I wasn’t going to be like my dad was. He wasn’t a bad person, he was just absent. When I came to Perspectives Leadership Academy my grade point average went from 1.0 to now a 3.6 and has consistently been a 3.6 since I got here. When my teacher called me and told me the science fair was at the White House, it blew my mind and was an amazing opportunity to me. I never thought I could go from 1.0 GPA and gang-like activity to meeting the president. It’s hard but important to transform yourself. I stopped just living and started dreaming. In my opinion, living is existing, having a face and leaving no mark or having no identity and for me dreaming is knowing who you are and setting goals with ambition. I live for something and want to leave this world with something.
Tell me how NFTE has helped you.
It taught me how to create something from nothing. I learned that I can create my own opportunities by staying focused and knowing that I am a young innovator. You have to be obedient and patient at the same time. All of my teachers always told me to be patient and encouraged me. There were points when I gave up on my vision but they stayed by me and offered to help me make this dream a reality. I no longer wait on opportunities I seek them.
Did you ever envision yourself going down this path? When did you formulate an interest in math and science?
No, I never envisioned this. I used to say to myself as long as I didn’t fail school I’m satisfied. I never pushed myself but I always liked math. I realized I can use the math I’ve learned and apply it to ever day life. I used my math skills to increase my science skills and it all really started with NFTE.
How has having a young child impacted you?
It’s hard in a way, but it’s beneficial. It teaches me how to take responsibility. She pushes me to keep going when I want to give up. People look at me like I’m successful without knowing my story. She is the reason I am doing all of this. Now, even when I want to give up I don’t because I have someone else to fight for. I don’t want to raise her like my father raised me. I want to be there for her. I want her to have a better life than me. I want her to do what I’ve done but better!
From life in Chicago, to participation in entrepreneurship programs, to meeting President Obama--has your story come full circle?
I did gang-like activities when I was younger but I knew that wasn’t going to be it for me. The best quote I heard was about a year ago--"The catalyst for change is discomfort." Hearing that changed me. If we don’t set goals for ourselves, someone sets them for us. When I had a daughter, I realized I do want to be somebody. I hated asking others for help, but I realized sometimes that necessary in order to get over circumstances you’re dealing with. It’s hard when you have so much coming at you--and even people you trust are bringing you down.
My resilience helped me through. I couldn’t use my father’s death to not keep pursing college. Many people wanted me to stay home and quit school to be with my daughter but those people don’t really know me. I proved that I could do both and persevere. All these activities led me from where I was to where I am now.
My biggest influence is my pastor. When my father died (in October of 2010), he took me in. He saw where my head and mindset was and allowed me to see I was different. I allowed his leadership and teaching of faith and the responsibility to be humble to guide me. I couldn't have done it alone. Many organizations helped me get where I am today. I never said no to any opportunities and I will continue to be this way.
Describe how it felt to participate in the White House Science Fair. What was your biggest takeaway?
Being on stage with the president while he was speaking was an amazing moment for me. When he gave his speech he told us to be open minded and said we were the children of America that we will change this world. He was telling everyone that they need to focus on us. He called us brilliant. He shared our testimonies and said we were proof that there are good creative entrepreneurs out there.
What’s next for you?
I’m attending Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I got a full ride! My mom is very excited. I’m not sure what I want to be or major in. I just know I want to keep going!
I want to continue being a living testimony for those who want to give up. If I came from a neighborhood full of malicious activity then don’t be discouraged by what’s going on around you. Be encouraged by your own identity.