The Value of a Mentor

September 5, 2021

Mentors come in many different forms and take on a wide array of significance depending on who you ask. Mentors can be your role model, your friend, your counselor, and more. Mentors are there to support you during your highs and lows; they have a genuine interest in you as a person and are invested in your success. The importance of mentors are well known among adults, and mentorship is highly encouraged in the workplace and prevalent in various communities. But what about for high school students? Let me tell you my story. 

Similar to many 1st generation immigrants, I came to the United States without my family knowing any immediate relatives or close friends to guide us. Our family was fortunate enough to have some distant relatives assist us on our initial journey to the United States, but after settling down, it really was just my parents and I trying to navigate the vast landscape of America. Still as a kid in elementary school and middle school, life was fairly simple; I would aim for good grades in classes, participate in a handful of sports and extracurricular activities, as well as hang out with friends.

However, as I grew older and more mature, life became much less simple. By freshman year in high school, I had a teenage form of a life crisis. It was apparent to me the lack of clarity of what I wanted to do, what my goals were, and what I actually needed to do to achieve my goals. My parents and I would hear examples of students thriving in STEM fields and attending top universities to pursue STEM careers, and so my parents signed me up for a lot of STEM-oriented summer programs. I also attended a variety of summer camps associated with top universities, but the purpose was unclear and I recognized early on that STEM was not my favorite field. This repetitive cycle felt meaningless to me, and to look back, I could see how overwhelming it is for a teenager to have to choose among a myriad of options and possible paths to pursue without much guidance. For me, without knowing any answers to these fundamental questions, I could not be selective in how I spent my time; the only choice that I felt I had was to do as much as possible. 

In freshman year, I joined all the time intensive activities from Marching Band to Swimming to Speech & Debate, in addition to a flurry of other extracurricular activities like Jazz Band, Christian club, and much more. My parents also would come up with various recommendations for potential summer camps and activities that I could pursue. I remembered feeling confused at times and feeling trapped in a cycle where I was doing everything but at the same time not really much in anything. I also felt unmotivated and even demoralized by my participation in some of these activities. I never made it to any advanced rounds at Speech & Debate, was clearly one of the slowest swimmers, and quite frankly had no pizzazz for jazz. Looking back, a lot of these activities felt like daily chores, and what do teenagers hate more than doing chores? 

This all changed when I met a rising senior in a small nerdy club that I joined in sophomore year. The rising senior had similar interests as me — he loved history, had an affinity for classical music, and shared many of the same values that I held. He was also extremely smart and very driven. His focus on academics and a demonstrated passion for this small nerdy club gave me a rough blueprint of how I could plan out the rest of my high school year. It was natural for me to try to emulate his successes given our similar interests and background. From then, I reset my priorities, focusing on extracurriculars that truly interested me and working hard to make sure my academics were also stellar. When he eventually received admissions to a Top 3 Ivy League university, his success showed me that it was possible for a person like me to attend a top university with a non-STEM background. This realization motivated me even more than anything my parents could say to me, and it gave me the confidence that my hard work and sacrifice will eventually pay off in the long run.  

Even after he went to college, he provided me valuable insights and guidance on what subjects to take, and when college admissions came around, he also offered to look over my essays and gave me helpful feedback. Looking back, he was basically my mentor and peer role model — someone that motivated me to pursue my path and give me confidence to achieve my goals. As a 1st generation immigrant with no immediate family friends and relatives in America to look up to, I was fortunate enough to have found someone who had similar interests and background as me to basically be my mentor. I am not so sure what I would have done if I didn’t have such a mentor to guide me. 

I know that not everyone may be lucky enough to meet an older peer like I did who could shepherd me through the confusing and challenging roller coaster of high school and college admissions. This is partly why I joined Path Mentors, as I recognize how important a good mentor can be in shaping the life and experiences of a teenager. Out of many college counseling services and education programs available, I found the mission of Path Mentors to be extremely innovative; its project-based mentorship program combines education, mentorship, and career exploration through impact-driven projects. I have seen firsthand the benefits such a program can have in helping students find meaning and develop long-term interests and pursuits. It is my hope that all students are able to find like-minded mentors to help them navigate through these uncertain and trying times. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day. 

"If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before." — J Loren Norris

“The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting."—Plutarch

Story Shared by Mentor Daniel From Columbia University

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