Sports Marketing expert Jimmy Lynn has a lifelong passion and commitment to mentorship that he lives and breathes in every moment of his life. His dedication to advancing young people to full potential is relentless. He shares his recent experience as a speaker to a group of McKinley Tech High School grads.
A couple of months ago I was contacted by the wonderful teachers at McKinley Tech High School in Washington, DC. They asked if I could deliver the keynote speech at the McKinley Tech Commencement Exercises. I believe I was asked to speak since I’ve been involved in numerous non-profits in the Washington, DC area over the past 12+ years. Some of these include the Hoop Dreams Scholarship Foundation, Year Up, POSSE Foundation, Asian-American LEAD, United for DC, Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, etc. I also mentor dozens and dozens of youngsters, many of whom are from low-income families. Lastly, I teach at Georgetown University and I’m very involved with mentoring students of color – as well as a number of students who are the first ones in their family to go to college.
I was excited to have this terrific opportunity to address the outstanding senior class at McKinley Tech, one of the most historic schools in Washington, DC which has over the past decade become a STEM-focused school. I immediately knew what I would focus my speech on“Mentoring, Networking and Paying It Forward.” I knew I would have a limited time of about 10 minutes but I carefully started to put the speech together.
However, about a month ago, one of the McKinley teachers called to tell me that there had been a major miscommunication. The principal had extended an invitation to another person — a speaker with a much higher-profile than I. Without hesitation, I told the teacher not to worry. The other person would deliver a fantastic commencement speech and I could speak to the students on another date. We compromised on this idea: I would come speak to the students in the week leading up to the graduation ceremony.
So a few weeks ago I went to McKinley Tech HS to address a group of students. Although I would be speaking to a much smaller group than an entire senior class, I kept to the exact same messaging I wanted to articulate during the commencement speech.
First and foremost, I wanted these students to be very proud of being from Washington, DC. It’s not easy growing up in Washington, DC — particularly in areas outside of the affluent Northwest part of town. The percentage. of DC public high school students that graduate from a 4-year university is 9%. The percentage from a low-income family that graduates from a 4-year university is 5%. And, this is from what is regarded as the most powerful city in the world!
I told the students I has just returned from a week-long trip to Brazil with a group of graduate students from Georgetown University (my 2nd trip there in 4 months with GU students). I informed thw McKinley kids that nearly 50% of school children in Brazil are illiterate. So, although these DC youngsters might have it tough here, they have it a lot better than in Brazil and other emerging markets.
I knew that over 90 – 95% of the students are African-American. So, I wanted them to really be aware of these great historical figures that are from Washington, DC or made a historical impact in Washington, DC. I told them that only 50 years ago, the great Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Then, a little more than 20 years later, Coach John Thompson, Jr, a Washingtonian, became the first African-American head coach of a college basketball team to win a NCAA Championship. Then, fast forward another quarter-century and Barack Obama became the President of the United States of America. All of this happened here in our Nation’s Capital. I also told them the importance of education — how each one of these brilliant men were education and stressed education to help create a more level playing field.
I wanted the students to really grasp the importance of “Networking, Mentoring and Paying It Forward.” I told them about two of my primary mentors, Ted Leonsis and Mario Morino. Ted is from a Greek immigrant family in Brooklyn. His parents never made more than $28,000 in a year. He was also told by a high school guidance counselor that he was not college material. However, Ted came to Georgetown University in the 70′s and was mentored by a Jesuit priest, Father Joseph Durkin. The mentoring was so strong that the kid that was told he wasn’t college material ended up graduating from the top of his class at Georgetown. Further, over the next 35 years, he has gone to become the Vice-Chair of AOL; majority owner of the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals, Washington Mystics and Verizon Center; CEO of Groupon; board member at Georgetown University and American Express; Chairman, SnagFilms; philanthropist, film-maker and most importantly world-class husband, father and mentor!
Mario Morino hails from an Italian immigrant family from Pittsburgh. He was also the first one in his family to attend college. He went on to sell the company he founded for over a couple of hundred million dollars in the early 90′s. Then, he created the Morino Institute – where he mentored so many of today’s business leaders in Washington, DC. In ’99 he founded the Venture Philanthropy Partners, which has raised over $80 million and helped fund many of DC’s top non-profits, particularly those focused on helping children from low-income families pursue their college education.
These two mentors, through their actions, showed me time after time the importance of mentoring and “giving back” to the community. As homage to these two wonderful people, I’ve become heavily involved in philanthropy, non-profits and mentoring. I call it our “Pay It Forward” system. As an example, Father Durkin mentored Ted Leonsis … who in turn mentored me … now I mentor dozens of youngsters from Washington, DC as well as from Georgetown University.
I told the McKinley students about some of my mentees: Emily, who graduated from Bannker HS and now has degrees from Princeton University and Harvard University; Ayana, who graduated from my alma mater, American University; Rodney, who grew up in 14 foster homes and in homeless shelters – but he overcame these obstacles to graduate from Morehouse College, is now pursuing his MBA at Yale University and this summer is interning at Goldman Sachs. I also told the students about the two Chinese-American teenagers from an immigrant family in China that I mentor. The older brother just graduated from Wilson HS and will attend the University of Maryland this Fall. The sister just graduated from Jefferson MS and will attend Banneker HS. I’ve been mentoring these two youngsters for the past 4+ years and I’ve made a financial commitment with their family to pay for their college tuition. This is an example of the importance of mentoring …. and it’s real-life example of the “Pay It Forward” system in action
I could have gone on and on but I only had about 15 minutes to present to the students. I ended my speech to them by letting them know that education truly is the great equalizer. And, that advances in Technology and more access to the internet is also going to play a critical role in offering more opportunities to pursue their collegiate diplomas.
In summary, I wanted these youngsters to hear these real-life stories about the importance of mentoring, networking, paying it forward, technology and education — so they too could be inspired and motivated. And, in fact, I wrapped my speech by challenging them to stay in contact with me and to inspire me in the coming years so I could proudly boast about them in the future. A wonderful McKinley teacher, Mr. Allen, walked me to my car and told me I made a strong connection with his students — he said he could tell by how their eyes were glued to me and they were focused on what I was trying to tell them. These youngsters, some of whom might become future mentees, made my day …. made my week … and they make me want to keep giving back and mentoring others.