Make Your Mark: Halli Lannan on Living Your Truth

Blog, Make Your Mark | 07/07/2020

“…I live this way so that those that I encounter understand that people facing tragedy, trauma, and adversity are not broken — they are leaders, they are agents of change and they are people you encounter every single day.” 

Our Make Your Mark series, powered by the NFL, showcases the global impact of the Tillman Scholars who are writing the story of a better future. In these videos they share their works of humble leadership and service across both public and private sectors.. For the next few weeks, we will be sharing our scholars’ impressive work that seeks to actively change the world. This Make Your Mark Talk was originally presented at the 2017 Pat Tillman Leadership Summit.

In her talk, Tillman Scholar Halli Lannan discusses the adversity she has faced as a disabled veteran, sexual assault survivor, cancer survivor and member of the LGBTQ community.

She focuses on how she empowers others to make change by living as her authentic self,  having difficult conversations and speaking her truth.

In this current historic moment, as we all think about making changes in our organizations and communities, her reflections on living your truth to empower change is a powerful reminder that small acts can make a huge difference.

Watch her full talk and read the transcript below.

At 10 years old I knew that I wanted to be all that I could be. So at 17 I anxiously brought home enlistment papers to my parents. And off to basic training I went.

I soon realized that the army was everything that I loved: camaraderie, patriotism, service. I even like the structure in the discipline, which is a lot coming from a somewhat wayward teenager. Okay, really wayward teenager. However, all of that changed one January night when I was sexually assaulted by another soldier. At just 19 years old my views of the whole world drastically changed. The events of that night, in the days to follow, would ultimately test my ability to persevere. A system that I was so happy to be fighting for was now a system that I was fighting against. Ultimately, leading to a congressional inquiry and investigation. However, from this tragedy came triumph, a passion to fight for equity, justice, and change. I’m a sexual assault survivor, a disabled veteran, who lives daily with the mental health diagnosis, a recent breast cancer survivor, and surprise a butch lesbian.

I know all too well how adversity can impact your life, so I’ve taken these challenges, and I decided to empower others to get through their adversity and to make change by doing three things. I live as my authentic self; I have difficult conversations; and I speak my truth.

I live as my authentic self. A couple of months ago, I walked into a classroom, and there is a student who is noticeably sitting off to the side by herself and seemed to be very upset. However, when we made eye contact her whole face lit up. I couldn’t help but notice that during the lesson she was watching my every move. As the lesson came to a close, the teacher asked them to put their belongings away. She took a noticeable detour and showed up right in front of me, and said, “Who are you?” I told her my name and asked hers. She obliged. And then she stared at me for a minute and reached up and grabbed my bowtie, and she said, “I want to be a girl like you. A girl that’s like a boy but is still a girl.” And she walked away. That day we both learned much more than how to multiply fractions. We affirmed each other. In her, I saw the will to continue my important work and to be who I am, and in me, she saw a person she could aspire to be regardless of societal expectations. And I left there knowing that, that day, I was who I needed at her age.  

I speak my truth. On a daily basis, I hear assumptions and stereotypes about disabled veterans and those living with mental health diagnoses. And they almost always come from a negative

viewpoint, so I do not hesitate to disclose that I am in fact a disabled veteran living with the mental health diagnosis. And I’m almost always challenged by people saying “Really?” or “No

way!” And all those comments might seem to be upsetting to some, I actually welcome them, because, in those, are the possibility to challenge thoughts and to educate. And. of course, I could tell them stories about the challenges of disabled veterans and people living with mental health diagnoses, but instead I choose to tell them the amazing stories of the people that I know that are like me, who are persevering every single day.

I refuse to shy away from difficult conversations. If there is anything that having cancer has taught me it is how to navigate really shitty conversations. So when I realize that most breast cancer campaigns are about saving breasts, not women, I had to speak up. And when the one decision that was challenged, more than anything else, was my decision not to reconstruct after my double mastectomy, I had to speak up. And when the doctor told me to just go ahead and get fit for a prosthetic breast, in case there was, at some point, a dress in my closet that I was going to need to wear them with, I had to speak up. So I told him, not only will there not be a dress in my closet, but that I am, in fact, perfectly comfortable living without breasts. I mean they did try to kill me. I live this way on a daily basis so that I can empower others, and I live this way so that those that I encounter understand that people facing tragedy, trauma, and adversity are not broken – they are leaders, they are agents of change, and they are people you encounter every single day. So my challenge to you today is to make your mark by living as your authentic self, speaking your truth, and engaging in those uncomfortable conversations and encouraging others to do the same.

Thank you.