The importance of mentors at every level

Images-2Not sure how we started talking about this but someone told me this story this week and it made me think about the importance of mentors at any level.

This story took place probably 25 years ago.  The woman who told me this story was attending Cornell University.  She grew up with a buttoned up Korean family who had moved to the states when she was a young girl.  They landed in Northern California.  When she got to college, she was rooming with a young African American woman who had come from upstate NY.  This woman was one in a family of twelve kids who would definitely go under the underserved category.  It was huge that she got to Cornell. 

At Cornell, this particular African American woman had never sat down and ate a meal off of ceramic plates.  At home, they ate in shifts off paper plates.  She had no idea about etiquette at a table that just comes naturally to most people.  She also had a beautiful dress that she bought on layaway.  It had taken her six months to buy that dress.  The woman I know had never even heard of layaway.  She had no idea that you could buy something like that.  On parents weekend, the entire family of the African American woman came up for the weekend and all of them stayed in the rooms of each of her roommates. 

This is one of the greatest things about going to college.  You meet people from all different walks of life and it is enlightening to everyone no matter which side you sit on.  Here is what is more amazing.  One day they were talking about what they wanted to do when they graduated.  The woman I know knew exactly what she wanted to do, she wanted to go to medical school.  The African American woman wanted to be a secretary because she had an aunt who was a secretary and she had done the best among her extended family.  A secretary with a degree from Cornell.  That was as big as she could think.  The woman I know was shocked. 

Unfortunately I wish there was an end to this story where I can tell you that this young African American woman who was able to go to Cornell ended up doing something spectacular but I can't because the woman I know isn't sure where she ended up.  What this tells me is that the importance of mentors is everywhere.

Meeting and talking to people who have done something so different than what you know opens your eyes to endless possibilities.  Not sure if they do that at colleges and universities around the country but they should.  How do you help people get out of what they know and what they grew up with and realize that they can and should reach for the stars.