Rachel Meltzer is a 2014 graduate of Furman University in South Carolina. Today, she is a project assistant with the Bipartisan Policy Center. In 2016, Rachel became a CPE mentor to Diamond, a high school senior attending Eastern Senior High School. We caught up with Rachel to see how her mentoring experience has made her reflect on the impact of mentors in her own life.
I think I can speak for most people when I say: High school is hard. Growing up is hard. Navigating life is hard, but it’s easier when you have friends and mentors to help you read the proverbial map.
In high-school, I did not have a mentor. I felt that there was not anyone to guide my constantly changing, rapidly evolving passions and ambitions. Yes, I had family and friends, but I didn’t have an objective third party to help me mold and shape my changing life. Instead, these goals and visions and hopes and dreams bounced around in my mind without any idea of how to materialize. It’s hard to go in the right direction when you have no idea what direction is right.
This all changed with a professor. During my senior year of college, I was inspired by a professor. For the first time I felt like someone was not only hearing me, but investing in me and my success. For the first time, someone was challenging me to go after my dreams rather than thinking things would somehow work out for themselves. More importantly, this professor inspired me to try harder and helped me live with intention. He also held me accountable and treated me as an adult.
As someone who was not the most academically oriented (claiming that “school just wasn’t for me”) I was shocked by the immediate impact of a mentor: I wanted to work hard; I wanted to prove him right for investing so much time and energy into my success. I was empowered by the changes I was making in my life, and felt confident in my abilities and my mind for the first time. He not only changed the trajectory of my academic career, but also the trajectory of my self-image and my personal goals. I wished so deeply that I had this experience when I was younger, and felt a calling to fulfill a role in a relationship that – when I was in high school – I didn’t believe existed. I decided to volunteer with CPE because I every student deserves to understand their worth.
Mentoring in theory is an act that encourages relationship-building, patience, tact, and maturity. Mentoring in real life reminds mentors, mentees, and onlookers that it is a multidimensional act that is not only intended to better the life of the mentee, but the mentor as well. Growth is a two-way street, and one cannot help another grow without doing so themselves. In the last year that I have spent with my mentee, I have come to learn more about myself, and have found ways to improve and better myself, than I could have imagined. My communication skills have strengthened, as I have learned to speak clearly and firmly, but also with an openness that encourages mutual trust. I have become increasingly patient with people, understanding deeply that their lives, responsibilities, priorities and experiences will always differ from mine, and that this difference is a gift.
Mentoring has reminded and encouraged me to live with purpose and clarity, as I remind myself that not only am I learning about the heart and mind of a young woman, but I am also reflecting on my own. Not only is it eye-opening, but it is also very cathartic; a reading of the letter my present-day self would tell my eighteen-year old self:
- Hold your head high, keep your eyes ahead, and breathe;
- Trust that you are worthy of greatness and happiness. You are strong enough and smart enough to achieve each;
- Education is a tool, not a burden; empower yourself with knowledge and compassion and diversity;
- You are limitless and your dreams are tangible; stand up and go get them