The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Lessons Learned: The Power of a Mentor

mentor

You don’t really realize how much of a mentor people are to you when you’re a child. Certainly, we all look up to adults growing up as they are our source of knowledge, leadership, and are routinely in charge of our daily lives. But, as a child, you live in the moment, not too concerned about much more than what flavor of juice box Mom packed for lunch, and definitely not worried about what the future holds. I think the realization that somebody was your mentor doesn’t happen until you mature, at least into your later teen years.

Now 20 years old, I’ve come to truly recognize and appreciate my mentors growing up. Beyond just the obvious ones like my parents, who raised me to be the person I am today, certain people in my youth greatly influenced my personality and how I see the world.

Teachers in and outside of school taught me to be curious. The most important examples of this came during my time at summer arts camps, where both professionals and teenage interns alike influenced me to be myself, operate with a free-flowing personality, and question the reasoning behind my curiosity and preferences in life. Two of these people are Jim Quinn, professor of theatre at Bridgewater State University, and Peter Difrancesco, now a skills life teacher in Leominster. They piqued my interest in video/film production and comedy, a hobby that I carry with me to this day. I also absolutely believe the personalities of these mentors rubbed off on me and have spread transitively within my friend group.

Playing football from third to fifth grade also taught me some valuable life lessons. While you won’t see me catching passes at McGuirk Stadium on Saturdays, my coaches valued the importance of acting as a “lion” and not valuing the opinions of a “sheep.” Be hungry in the pursuit of what you want to achieve and don’t allow the meaningless thoughts of others to cloud that vision. This mindset won us (humblebrag) three straight Super Bowls before I rode off into the sunset and “retired” to focus on other things after my third season.

My brother, Nick, is probably the pinnacle of mentors to me. Being almost seven years older than me, I had my fair share of being “toughened up” by him, which I was later grateful for, but he drove most of my interest in music, movies, television, and sports. Nick was the first person to get me involved in video-making, utilizing me to act in his homemade action videos since I was 5, and continuing in this role as we grew up. I also distinctly remember him putting tape on my hands so that I could catch the football better, which was a skill that helped me when I joined the team. We weren’t always on the same page, but without him, my interests certainly wouldn’t be the same.

On the other side of this coin, the past few summers have given me the opportunity to be a mentor. Working as a teacher at summer camps, I had the opportunity to express myself in the hopes of instilling the values I was taught growing up into another generation of students. Taking what Jim, Peter, and Nick taught me, I tried to show students that being themselves was cool, it’s alright to act outlandishly when the moment calls for it (in front of the camera, for example), and curiosity is an important skill to practice. Though I’m sure my lessons didn’t resonate with all my students, I am hoping I could have made a lasting impact in even just a few of them so the mentorship is carried along. This is also something I see as valuable when communicating with friends and professionals, as I find it easier to be yourself than act in a manner distant from my real personality.

We may not recognize who our mentors are until we grew up, but it’s important to carry on those positive aspects of our mentorship. I want to hopefully help put people into the thought-provoking, curious, outgoing mindset that I was mentored into. I also don’t think mentorship has to only be a chain from older to younger people; you can teach lessons to someone at any point in their life so long as they’re willing to listen. I don’t think I could ever pay my mentors back for the invaluable life lessons they taught me, so I deem it best to pay it forward.