My mentor and boss was proud that she had not only persuaded me to return to high school after dropping out, but to graduate from college as well. She shared this with her peers at the teaching hospital where I worked. They, in turn, acknowledged my presence as I delivered supplies to their departments. I was earning minimum wage but receiving maximum respect.
My mentor was both happy and concerned for me. She knew that I was a first-generation student from a book-poor home. As such, she feared that I would enroll but never graduate, unless I gave her permission to counsel me. That I did.
Once a week for five months, we would have lunch and talk in her office. I felt respected in her presence. In those amazing conversations, she shared seven mighty truths that she believed would guide my journey to excel.
1. Graduate from high school and college.
Your future success depends on your graduating several times over. If you want to become a professional, a college degree is a must. No one had ever told me that before. I knew I had to strain every nerve, save my money and remove every obstacle to get it done.
2. Cross a bridge called books.
Make time for reading every day. It will help you to think critically and prepare you to become educable. Read books on how to study, take tests and use grammar appropriately. Grow your intelligence. Discuss lessons from books you read with educated adults. Reading will help you bridge the abyss created by a lack of literacy. Students from privilege have educated parents, who can guide them. The vocabulary and skills they acquire through a childhood of reading and assistance from private tutors, you can access through books.
3. Learn complex words from proficient speakers.
Listen and imitate the correct way to say complex words. This must become a constant and urgent duty. Your antennas for capturing the innovative ways educated professionals speak must always be on high alert. Take note of new words. Practice enunciating and using the words you learn correctly.
4. Grow your vocabulary exponentially.
Read books, and without exception, define unfamiliar words. Become aware of the power that each word holds. Mastery of words will allow you to understand the meaning of what you are reading. If reading becomes a boring hassle, it’s likely because your vocabulary is limited.
5. Read resiliency memoirs.
Read memoirs of survivors who thrived despite adversity. These books will sharpen your thinking and coping skills. They will protect you from floundering in self-pity or lashing out with unproductive anger. Memoirs will introduce you to authors who suffered and overcame abandonment, abuse, violence, poverty, addiction, imprisonment and racism. You will grow your vocabulary and learn to reject rejection.
6. Take time to be holy.
Reflect on spiritual issues. It matters. Yes, engage in productive work. Eat healthy foods. Get plenty of sleep and exercise. Don’t treat your body like a garbage can. Drinking booze and smoking is destructive and will derail you. Don’t forget, your spirit needs nourishment too. Take time to worship or meditate. Avoid distractions. Engage in community service, it uplifts your spirit. My mentor was fond of saying, “When you can’t sleep at night, don’t waste time counting sheep, talk to the shepherd!”
7. Get a mentor.
Knock on the door of busy, successful, caring adults. Establish a mentoring relationship with someone you admire, who agrees to guide you in your journey to excel. Get out of your comfort zone. If need be, seek assistance from members of other identity groups. You also need to study with peers who value education. They can help you to do well in your classes and complete projects. Both you and your study buddy or peer tutor benefit in this win-win equation.
I’ve been faithful to these mighty truths and have incorporated technology as a valuable resource in carrying them out in the times in which we live. They continue to sharpen my professional skills. It gives me pleasure to share these lessons with others in my role as a teacher, mentor, author and consultant.