What are the differences between a professor and a mentor?
A professor dogmatically professes, lectures, and places expectations and requirements upon the student. A mentor, on the other hand, inspires, invites, and guides the mentee.
The practice of mentoring is an elevated one. In a world that is quick to jump to cynicism and bad faith, mentoring calls upon our “better angels” in finding our dreams.
Consider this poem by W. B. Yeats.
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Dreams for self and others are what give energy and passion to being and finding a mentor. When we engage the free will of another in the discovery process of purpose we are walking on the hallowed ground of dreams and aspirations of the soul.
A Young Mentee Reaches Out
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of receiving an email from a former scholar/mentee who moved to New Jersey after spending several years at John Adams Academy. He agreed I could share his correspondence.
“Currently, I am a sophomore at Holmdel High School. When we moved to New Jersey I was surprised to find that the stellar classical education I had grown up with at John Adams was not a universal standard. Ever since I left the Academy I feel as if a part of me and the patriotic and servant leader attitude is missing, and I wanted to rekindle that fervor. With that impetus I started a club called the “American Military Support Group” or AMSG for short. After only six months we have over thirty-seven members and are expanding more branches of our group to other high schools in the area. Our main goal is to support veterans in their transition back into civilian life and assist organizations who feel the same gratitude for our troops as we do. I plan to have ten branches of the club in every state by the end of my High School career.
I decided to start my club after watching a 60 Minutes episode about how a certain army captain was on patrol in Afghanistan and ended up on the wrong side of an IED. After multiple surgeries following the injury, he lost an eye and suffered some severe mental problems from the IED’s shock-waves he went on to start a charity of his own to help veterans.
After watching that, I wanted to do my part in making sure those veterans get rewarded for their service and come home happy knowing that their communities will take care of them. I saw that the GIGO fund has done great work connecting veterans to employment opportunities and special healthcare benefits in addition to housing assistance, so I felt obligated to help them on their mission.
I reflect often on the stellar education I received at John Adams Academy and am glad I had the leadership and moral instruction lacking in too many of our public institutions.
Around the dinner table, we often compare my apparently top-ranked public school, to the wonderful and enriching experience at John Adams Academy. The conversations tend to focus on the family- centered values, the strength of a tight-knit community and a focus on a classical education at the Academy.
I only had the courage to speak out, I think, because of the traditional upbringing I received at the Academy. I admire your vision for the Academy spreading across the nation and the success of two more branches just after eight years. Your vision inspired me to extend the American Military Support Group I started at my high school in the same fashion. It is my personal belief that every school which has a student council, and a flag, and anything else for that matter, needs a group to defend/promote American values, or at least one to honor and support the men and women who fight for it. Ideally, the group would instead be a school, namely John Adams Academy, however it is hard for me to start a school at the young age of sixteen for now. But I think we share the same vision that the United States not only needs but deserves an institution worthy of its Founding Fathers’ blessings and I would like to ask you for your guidance on my mission to make America great again, currently through my work in the American Military Support Group.”
What inspired me about this correspondence was how mentors helped inspire this young man. Never once were demands placed upon him. All was self-imposed after experiencing inspiration. The core values and moral virtues of parents, mentors, and an institution tempered and built his desire to be a servant leader.
Mentors, Not Professors
It was my very own mentor, Oliver DeMille, who first introduced me to the principle “mentors, not professors.”
The cycle of service that flows from finding a mentor to being a mentor is very much a natural progression. Inspiration begets inspiration, and whether you are the mentee with the dream or the mentor with the desire to guide, I believe that you will never regret being a part of this special relationship of discovery, inspiration and service.