How My Mentor Changed My Life
By Tiffany L. Gaston
Growing up in the city of Detroit, a city plagued by negativity and stereotypes, many young people do not graduate from high school, let alone make it to college, and graduate school is reserved for the wealthy. Honestly, I never planned to go to school for longer than the four years that was required for a Bachelor’s degree, and my passion for a better life was the motivation behind that. I grew up in a single parent household where the importance of education was stressed, and it was easy to realize that this was the key to obtaining a lifestyle that was far from the struggles that my mother faced. I never thought twice about attending college, but grad school was definitely a stretch… I was so tired of midterm exams and trekking across the campus of Michigan State University in inches of snow that I thought two more years would be torture! That was then, and this is now. I’m so glad I came back to MSU!
Being a first generation college student, I was not constantly pressured to surpass what my parents or older siblings accomplished, I was able to create my own destiny, and set my own standards, but my no means was I on this journey alone. I have always had the support of my family and friends, but as I grew older, I realized that occasionally I needed someone to talk to who had traveled this path before me, overcome the same obstacles that I had faced, and sometimes my family just didn’t have the answers. I often dealt with the discouraging trials and tribulations of this new chapter of my life on my own, with the belief that I would just do what was necessary to graduate and prepare for whatever the future holds… the bare minimum, that’s it!
During the second semester of my freshman year, I built a relationship with an advisor in the Office of Supportive Services, and soon she was the person that I talked to about the issues that I faced as a college student and member of the minority, and ways that I could finally achieve the goals that comprised my own definition of success. She would call just to see how I was doing and take me to lunch to temporarily escape from everyday life. She was the missing link that I never knew existed. Her kind gestures impacted me in a way that she probably never intended, but her pleasant, caring, and genuine personality set me at ease. She saw something in me that I didn’t know was there, and without her encouragement and support, I’m not sure that I would have ever found out.
Somehow, over time, we ended up losing contact, but after a period of reflection, I realized that she was my first real mentor. My family has always, and continues to be the root of my support system, but this relationship was different. The bond that was built occurred so naturally, and perhaps that was why it was so easy for me to look to her for wisdom and advice. There is another important piece of this interaction that helped make this connection so special: she knew the importance of the role that she played in my life, and she was more than willing to step up to the plate. Although that was almost five years ago, I know that I probably wouldn’t be where I am today without her. I am ecstatic because I recently looked her up, and she is still affiliated with the University. I can’t wait to contact her and thank her…tell her about all of the things that I have accomplished over the years…the things that she told me I would accomplish, even before I set my mind to follow my dreams.
Throughout the years, I have had several mentors, who have all served as my guidance during particular periods of my college career. Some I talk to on a regular basis and some I only talked to a few times a year, but each has left a positive lasting impression that will forever be imprinted in my mind and on my heart.
Now as a second year graduate student in one of the nation’s top programs, anticipating the start of my career with a Fortune 50 company in just a few short months, a part of me feels that I owe a piece of my success to all of my mentors. Their selflessness, compassion, and understanding has helped shaped me into the person that I am today, and I am eager to follow the example that they have set for me.
If you are reading this post, and feel a tug inside of you, just do it! You don’t have to be rich executive or a well-known entrepreneur to make a difference. You don’t have to be a part of a formal mentor program to know that somewhere, someone, some Spartan (or even a non-Spartan) needs you! You will never know the impact you can make on someone else’s life, just by being there, unless you try it. As one who is now paying it forward as a mentor, I can tell you that it is as much a joy to give (maybe even moreso) as it was to receive!
Tiffany Gaston is an Alumni Career Services Assistant for the MSU Alumni Association and is also a graduate student in the Masters in Human Resources and Labor Relations program at MSU. She has already been hired by an amazing company that she looks forward to working with upon her graduation, and hopes to continue to mentor many more Spartans in the future.