Recently I read a New York Times column about what students should focus on in college. The author pointed out severals reasons that really resonate with me. One of which was that college students should put their energy into getting to know their professors and take advantage of every chance to pick their brains and form relationships with them.
This reminded me of how lucky I have been to form bonds with some of my teachers and bosses throughout life. All of them have made an impact on me in some way, shape or form.
I think the earliest example of a mentor that I can remember is my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Schofield. She introduced me to vegetarianism, veganism, The Clash and Sublime, but she also encouraged me to keep workshopping my writing so it could improve.
In high school, I was lucky to have three people who inspired me. The first is Ms. Yorke, my confident, strong, hilarious, personable, ray of sunshine of a Spanish teacher and Yearbook sponsor. I admired her (and still do) because she was and still remains positive whenever darkness tries to prevail in her life. The second person, Ms. Eisen, pushed me out of my comfort zone as my sponsor for the high school’s literary magazine. She always believed in me and my work and I became the magazine’s editor because of that. The third person is Mr. George Shafer, my AP history teacher. He knew my true potential, so he tried to push me in the right direction as much as I would let him at the time (Ugh, resistant high schoolers, am I right?). Thankfully, I have kept some form of contact with all three over the years.
Things didn’t change much when I went to college. I found three more wonderful mentors. Most of my college classes were huge, so it was refreshing to be in a small class with Professor Mike Abelson in Focused Inquiry during my freshman year. Mike taught me to think outside of the box and encouraged me along the way. I also bonded with English professor, Tara Bray. Tara was so sweet and really believed in each student. She, too, was clearly passionate and wanted her students to thrive. I was able to establish connections with both professors and had the chance to get to know them outside the classroom – something I still cherish.
The third professor, Jeff South, helped me believe in and trust my decision to study journalism. He is one of the most dedicated and passionate teachers I have ever met because he truly believes in the power journalists have. Jeff’s passion for journalism is obvious, too. Sometimes you can see that a professor’s heart isn’t really in their work, but that’s not the case with Jeff. In his VCU Capital News Service class, students pair up with and write for local newspapers in Virginia. This opportunity allows students to get real hands-on experience working under an editor. I took CNS and can say that when Jeff taught this class, he put all of his energy and passion into it and his students. His goal is for students to leave the course with a portfolio of published work and a polished resume and cover letter. When it was time for me to put mine together, he worked with me every step of the way, sending me many different edits until I got it right. Thanks to Jeff, I landed my first reporter job at The Hanover Herald Progress (R.I.P.) shortly after graduation.
During the first year or so on the job, I worked under Lee Francis, who was the editor at the time. Lee helped me navigate through many things including keeping a healthy work/life balance, challenging my sources, dealing with a lack of resources at the paper and covering local government meetings. I couldn’t have survived my first year as a reporter without his leadership. Lee reminded me of the importance of our job as reporters and the power that we held. His leadership was the perfect combo of friendliness mixed with big brother qualities and he wasn’t afraid to crack the whip when needed. Lee also wasn’t scared to tell me when I was wrong and he always challenged me as a writer, reporter and photographer. Although I was frustrated at the time, I wouldn’t have asked to be treated any other way because Lee helped me grow as a writer and a person.
There have been others who have impacted me, but this post is already long enough. Please know that if I left you out, you have not been forgotten and you, too have helped me in some way. (Quick shoutout to Boomer Magazine Editor Annie Tobey for challenging me, helping me strengthen my writing skills and expanding my beer knowledge!) To everyone else, I hope this helps you reflect on the people who have made waves in your life, big or small. Just don’t forget to thank them, because like me, you probably wouldn’t be where you are today without them.