My mentee graduated from college two weeks ago. I wish like nothing else that I could be there to cheer her on today just as I did four and a half years ago when she graduated from DC Public Schools. I wish I could be there to buy her a nice dress, take her and her friends out to a fancy graduation dinner and share words of wisdom (hopefully). Instead, I’m stuck in Yunnan Province and can resort only to enthusiastic text and voice messages and my blog. Wei, I love you and am so overwhelmingly proud of you today and forever. - Jess
When we first met almost six years ago, you were barely 17, had moved from China 2 years earlier speaking no English, and lived in low-income Washington, D.C. housing with parents who didn’t want you to go to college.
I thought being a mentor meant going out to lunch and teaching you about safe sex. Little did I know you were going to have me read over endless college and scholarship applications, enroll you in college, provide tax advice, and take pictures at your high school graduation.
It wasn’t until you came into my life that I truly understood what vision and grit looked like. It wasn’t until you that I really understood why I work in education and what all of our kids deserve, regardless of what neighborhood they grew up in. I continue in this work because you show me what’s possible for everyone, every day.
You are a sassy ball of spitfire. You have endured - no, flourished - despite the countless roadblocks life has served. It wasn’t until I moved to China 3 years ago that I understood where you came from and what it really took for you to move to the U.S. and achieve everything you’ve done. You are the hardest worker and strongest person I know. I wish you could visit our students in China.
I admit, even though you’re graduating college with an awesome job lined up, I’m so, so full of anxiety. I’m seriously panicking a little from where I am in rural China. I wish I could be there as you enter the professional world. When I visit DC this winter, we’ll celebrate with a proper graduation dinner, but in the meantime, this is what I want you to know.
Congratulations and much love forever, Jess
1. Take care of yourself on the inside: Make time for friends and fun. Remember how you didn’t want to attend my wedding because you had a quiz to study for? I’m glad you changed your mind. Work hard, but also take care of yourself by having fun on your own and with the people around you.
2. ... And take care of yourself on the outside: Invest in a great hairdresser. No matter what we might like to think, looks do matter in the professional world. When I come home, I’m going to take you shopping for well-fitted work clothes and proper make-up. (I never would have thought of saying this to a young woman until I imagine you going out into the working world... but now I’m full of anxiety you won’t fit in).
3. Don’t stop learning: Learning and development doesn’t just happen at school - make sure you continue to figure out what you enjoy doing outside of work and pursue learning it. It’ll make you a richer person for it.
4. Pay your bills in full: You’d be surprised how many accounting friends I have who carry a lot of debt. Pay your bills in full, spend only what you earn and save, save, save. And then blow it on awesome vacations every so often. You deserve it.
5. Never say never: Don’t ever set boundaries for yourself. I remember editing your college application essays years ago where you wrote about wanting to become an architect and joining Peace Corps. I’m so proud you’re pursuing a great career in accounting, but don’t think of this is as the end, especially if there is more you want to do in life.
6. Give back: You’ve always done this, even in high school when you didn’t speak English but still volunteered at the Math Center and helped serve meals at the homeless shelter. Don’t stop. When you’re a young professional, happy hours and work will take up so much of your time - but remember, you get as much as you put in to the world. Become a mentor. =)
7. And last but not least... You will fail: You know this better than I do. Life is full of places we fail and what matters is how we get up. As William Faulkner said, “All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.”
The opinions expressed in Lessons From China are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.