I spent a couple of hours catching up with a former student yesterday at the funky Dandelion Communitea Café downtown. He’s just survived his first year of law school and is interning this summer here in town. He’s doing very well and is headed toward becoming a very fine attorney. As I often say to students like him, I’m quite proud of him but hardly surprised.
During the course of our conversation I mentioned how I increasingly feel like my work is largely meaningless, that I serve an impersonal factory process mass producing degrees. I told him that I increasingly wonder if I should do something else, something that would actually “make a difference in the world.” Meaningful Life is the Boomer National Anthem, after all.
His face clouded over. And very softly he replied, “You made a difference in my life. You were my mentor. I have greatly benefited from knowing you.”
My heart fell into my stomach at that moment. First of all, this was an enormous compliment coming from a very fine student, one of the best I’d ever taught. And, truth be told, I’ve taught a number of fine students.
But second, what I suddenly realized is how very ungrateful my comment must have sounded to this young man. Mentoring only occurs when students become willing to allow their mentors into their lives. They have to become vulnerable in that process, open to what their mentors offer them. That is hardly a small consideration for anyone, myself included. It is a major vote of confidence in the abilities and the character of the mentor.
For teachers like myself, mentoring is also a major gift. It allows us to offer our talents, skills and hopefully the wisdom of life experience to those we would assist in becoming all they can be. It also affirms those of us whose meaning in life is largely found by being willing to help others, affirmation that is hard to come by in virtually any form of public service today, especially higher education.
That is no small gift. And it is not something that should ever, EVER be taken for granted. And so I thank my young lawyer-in-training for turning the tables, becoming the teacher and teaching me a lesson I badly needed at this point in my life of intense introspection and questioning of my calling.
Thank you, my young friend (whom I have not identified here because I fear it may embarrass him). And I thank all of the students along the way who have allowed me entry into their lives and the opportunity to offer them whatever it is they might have found helpful on their own life journeys.
Please do not think I have ever taken you for granted or discounted the time we have spent together. Truth be told, I am in your debt. And I will always be grateful for your own roles in my life.
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., M.Div., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Asst. Lecturer: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
Osceola Regional Campus, University of Central Florida, Kissimmee
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++