Why Mentors Matter

"Thank you, David Brooks. I’ve been waiting for your wise words since Weds morning," was the first sentence of the Facebook post that made it all click (I couldn’t resist the pun). It was like a sort of circuit, pieces added and connected one step at a time until you flip the power switch and everything comes to life, a lightbulb moment. A person that I believe to be an incredibly wise person, a powerful and inspiring person, was sharing an article by a journalist whose words resonated with her in the period of tension across the US, and much of the world, between President Trump’s election night victory and his inauguration. That Facebook post was where the shock and thrill of seeing a person I admired so much, someone I saw as a wonderful role-model and mentor, share not only the words of someone she admired, but share her feeling of need for his wisdom in that climactic moment in American politics.


For some reason, it never occurred to me that successful people look to role-models and mentors for guidance, too. Growing up, Youth Zone and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America were geared towards the colored, Hispanic, and/or low-income communities around the country. The wealthy, high-achieving, White kids in my class didn’t need all these extra people around them, at least that’s what it looked like. But that Facebook post is where that changed.


I so passionately believe that education has the potential to shape someone’s life, to make or break one’s ability to live a life that he/she can reflect on and call successful, and I believe that education can come in many forms. One who wants to live a life of success must want just as much to live a life of learning. In regards to learning from a textbook, something like Mathematics, theory is presented alongside examples before questions are given to be solved applying the theory. The examples hint at possibilities, showing ways the theory can be applied in hopes of making one’s own attempts of applying the theory successfully.


Mentors and role-models are the examples in the textbooks of our lives, only effective if we study them and very often essential to a successful application of the "theory" we acquire. The name says it: models. They are models for the possibilities that our lives can have and models for the possible forms our societies can take. They are beacons of hope, the lights at the end dark tunnels we were about to give up trying to escape. Buddha looked to the lotus, Michelangelo was apprentice to Ghirlandaio, and Bill Gates remains close friends with Warren Buffett. Search any global public figure’s name, modern or historic, alongside the words "role-model" or "mentor" and you will be shown countless recounts of why that public figure is such a role model to the rest of the world. It takes a very deliberate and specific kind of digging to find Bill Gates’ blog post on his and his wife Melinda’s relationship with Buffett. For some reason, it’s really difficult to find proof that successful people looked towards other successful people to build their own models of success, be it models for a successful life, a successful career, or a successful relationship. It’s so logical that it almost seems circular to say.


Just as meeting fire with fire will only make a bigger fire, meeting wisdom with wisdom will only create more wisdom. Meeting success story with success story will only inspire more success.


Global Citizen Year has sent me halfway across the world and succeeded in pushing my comfort zone to its greatest limits, stretching my mind and heart as I interact with such inspiring people, including my fellow Fellows and my host community. Abby Falik, founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, has been one of the most incredible role-models I’ve ever encountered, and I feel so lucky to have had the privilege of being a part of her effort to reshape the face of education in the 21st century. It really is the little things, as they say, and had I never found Global Citizen Year, had Shelby Davis not continued to invest in the United World Colleges and its alumni and provided the scholarship that made this possible for me, had Abby Falik never shared on Facebook that New York Times opinion column by David Brooks, I would have continued to make the mistake of reading my textbooks without studying the examples.


My bridge year taught me why mentors and role models matter. I was never taught that in the classroom.