Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It’s a day spent with family and friends. And, it’s a day to take a step back and to think and to be grateful for what we have been blessed with over the years.
For the past five years, I have visited Arlington National Cemetery on the morning of Thanksgiving to pay respects to my heroes — my father, Uncle Art and General and Mrs Jack Guthrie (the parents of one of my closest friends). These are all people that have had such a deep and meaningful impact on my life.
In addition to my heroes, this day also makes me think of the deep impact that my mentors and mentees make on my life — each and every day. Two of my main mentors are Ted Leonsis and Mario Morino, who both have taught me the importance of mentoring, giving back, helping others, philanthropy, etc. They have done so not only with their words but also through their actions over the past 15+ years.
We have an informal “Pay It Forward” system in place. Those two men were mentored by others when they were young and in college and / or early in their work careers. They in turn have mentored many people from my generation. So, it’s on us to now to pay it forward by passing on our learning’s to the next generation.
I have been blessed to mentor so many wonderful people throughout the past two decades. The first group of mentees were primarily from my office — HTS and then AOL — as well as through the wonderful non-profits I worked with — Hoop Dreams Scholarship Foundation, Year Up, Posse Foundation, etc. Now, most of my mentees are from Georgetown University as well as other non-profits such as Asian-American LEAD and NFTE.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I do have a wonderful story to tell. As many of my friends know, I mentor two wonderful Chinese-American teenagers, Da-Zhi, who is 17 yrs old and a senior in high school and his sister, Sally, who is 13 yrs old and in 8th grade. Their parents are from China and moved to Washington, DC so they can provide an education and bright future for their children. I met them through Asian-American LEAD, where I’ve served on the board for over 5 years (we were one of the first non-profits funded by Venture Philanthropy Partners – co-founded by Mario Morino, Raul Fernandez and Mark Warner in ’00).
I have been mentoring Da-Zhi and Sally for over four years and I am 100% committed to paying for their college tuition and ensuring they will receive their college degrees.
This is where the Pay It Forward system continues to grow. I have four terrific Asian and Asian-American students from Georgetown University — two graduated recently and two are seniors now. All four students have embraced the Pay It Forward system. I’ve told them I will mentor them and help them over the years — in return, I asked if they would help me prepare Da-Zhi and Sally for college.
Da-Zhi is now a senior in high school and is writing his college essays for his application process. Since he is the first one in his family to go to college, this is a new experience for him. Thankfully, this has been a group effort as my 4 Georgetown students / friends and I have collectively helped Da-Zhi with is essays. I am grateful to Carlos, Morgan, Lily and Frank for their wonderful help and advice.
In summary, I am so deeply grateful for this network of mentors and mentees. I am “paying it forward” to my mentors by mentoring dozens and dozens of the next generation in the greater Washington, DC area. So many people tell me, “your mentees are lucky to have you in life.” My response is “I’m just as lucky and fortunate to have them in my life.” This is not a one-way street … it goes both ways. I don’t have my own children — but because I have so many mentees — it provides a great feeling in that I’m able to “give back” and to help others. In addition to Sally and Da-Zhi, there are so many other mentees — TK, William, Michael, Emily, Jeremy, Taylor, Rodney — this list goes on and on and on (and I’m sorry I’m not listing everyone). In fact, I just added two new mentees from Georgetown this week as part of a wonderful program called Georgetown Scholarship Program.
So, on this special day, Thanksgiving, I am thinking of my Dad, Uncle Art and Aunt June, General and Mrs Guthrie, for being heroes in my life. And, I deeply thankful and grateful for the mentors and mentees in my life. Each of you have made my life that much more meaningful. Happy Thanksgiving to all.