While recently strolling through a shopping mall, I stumbled up on a group of teenagers. As the profanity became less and less bearable, I became more and more disturbed. My initial inclination was to criticize these young men for the highly inappropriate language and seemingly gang affiliated attire. This would have been immediately followed by giving them the obligatory speech about respecting elders. Then, I thought about a quote I recently heard from Georgetown Professor, Michael Eric Dyson:
“Maybe if we lifted their dreams, their pants would follow”
It is easy for us to ridicule young people for the behaviors that they exhibit. But this particular day really made me begin to critically assess the state of adolescence in today’s society. Most parents and guardians do the best they can to rear their children. Teachers, often with limited resources, provide students with key foundational concepts they will need for academic success. Counselors and organizations such as EIF work diligently to ensure that students have the requisite knowledge regarding their postsecondary options.
But there is still a missing link: An adequate supply of positive mentors.
Most of us can think of someone in our life who, in some way, inspired us when we were younger. Maybe it was a coach or teacher who helped us hone our talents, a family friend who took an interest in our education or a boss who taught us the ropes of our chosen career. These people encouraged us to pursue our life goals and were people we could look up to as role models.
Mentors play an important role in helping young people succeed academically, socially and professionally. These more experienced men and women can pass on knowledge, advice and offer support to their younger counterparts.
Mentors have the ability to especially make an impact on potential first-generation college students or those entering a career path foreign to their families. These students can’t necessarily rely on the guidance of parents or siblings in preparing for their postsecondary careers. In these situations, mentors serve as sources of knowledge regarding college applications, financial aid, course work, career development, and what to expect after high school.
But beyond providing useful information, these adults can also act as sources of social support and encouragement. A student who has someone taking an interest in their life goals and who is invested in their success is more likely to succeed after high school. A young person with a mentor always knows that there’s someone rooting for them, and that they have someone they can turn to for help when needed. Simply put, having a mentor can often mean the difference between a student dedicating themselves to their education or giving up entirely.
However, the students themselves are not the only ones who benefit from mentor-mentee relationships. Those who mentor indirectly impact their communities by helping to build a workforce of knowledgeable and skilled professionals. And the hope is that these young students will one day return to their communities with the ability to become mentors to the next generation, creating a cycle of success.
But in a sense, none of these are the most important reason:
Simply put, those of us that have been successful in our postsecondary lives have a moral obligation to mentor. This obligation is born from the idea that in an effort to prepare the next generation for success, it is not the option for a few of us, but the responsibility of all of us. If we all embraced young people, our future, with this attitude, we can collectively create a group of young professionals poised to lead our world into a new path of innovation and leadership. And who knows? Maybe then, your stroll through the mall won’t be as discouraging and distasteful as mine.