by Dylan Andres
November 2016 – I’m a 22-year-old, fresh out of college and living in New York City. I’m working at one of the largest financial services firms in the world. I am in a position many dream of and have every reason to feel confident, but on this Saturday morning, I am feeling particularly insecure.
“Does she think I’m cool?” “What should I say?” “Can she tell that I’m nervous?” No, I’m not on a first date – the nerves ahead of meeting a potential romantic partner are far easier to handle. It is my first year as a mentor for Minds Matter, and I’m sitting across from Fatima, a 15-year-old student and the source of my anxiety. She has just learned that I will be one of her mentors for the next three years.
She does not look happy about it (I offer the image the right as evidence). I do my best to break down the walls. I ask her about school, her family, what kind of music she likes – anything in the hopes of establishing some common ground. Like a comic after a few poor jokes, I feel myself losing this audience of one.
I ask her if she likes movies and her face lights up! She tells me about what she’s seen recently and how she has dreams of becoming an actress. We exchange thoughts on movies we had both watched, and share recommendations. I breathe an internal sigh of relief.
Session comes to an end, and we say our goodbyes for the week. I leave completely unsure of how the next three years are going to go. I still have doubts that Fatima is happy to have me as a mentor, but, as a self-described cinephile, I am excited that we share a common interest.
November 23, 2019 – I’m in my fourth year volunteering for Minds Matter and first as a Team Leader. Today is the day students learn who their mentors will be for the next three years, and I am thrilled.
After our team completes a short activity to reveal the triads (perhaps unsurprisingly, the theme of the activity was famous TV and movie trios), mentors and students begin getting to know each other. It’s a familiar scene, but this time, I’m an observer, keenly watching how everyone is getting along.
I put a lot of thought into matching students and mentors, so I am ecstatic to overhear laughter coming from several of the triads. Other triads, not unexpectedly, are quieter. I recognize the looks on the mentors’ faces – scrambling to touch on any topic that might get their student to open up. I chuckle to myself, not only because I know the feeling, but because I know what lies ahead over the next three years.
Today, Fatima is a freshman at Hunter College. She’s studying biology but is also interested in business (that prestigious financial services firm I mentioned? She did an internship there… at the age of 18). She continues to work extremely hard, but still finds time for the occasional movie or TV show.
In our three years together, Fatima and I grew very close. In a lot of ways, she reminded me of myself in high school. She increasingly leaned on me for advice, and, by the time she graduated, I think she might have even been happy that I was her mentor (I offer a second image as evidence).
I am proud to have played a small part in getting Fatima to where she is, but the greatest reward of being her mentor was simply being able to watch her grow into a thoughtful, articulate and confident young woman. In a lot of ways, she was the star of her own movie, and I was just lucky to be in the audience.
As I wrap up the team’s session, I see students and mentors say their goodbyes and leave with the same mix of excitement and uncertainty I felt three years ago. But me? I am only excited, because I know this is the beginning of an amazing journey for my nine students and their mentors. Today was just the opening scene, and I am, once again, feeling lucky to be in the audience.