Grace Lee recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She shared with us her thoughts on the significant role her Earl Woods Scholarship mentor played during those four years. Grace is currently employed full-time with NASA.
In the beginning of my freshman year, I received a package from the Tiger Woods Foundation about my new Mentor, Michael. My mentor's name was listed on the front page. I did the next logical thing and Googled his name. It pointed to a CEO profile on Forbes Magazine. I think it said he was a director of a buffalo wings company, an energy company and CEO of another company. At that time, I thought he was a terrible fit for me. I was going to be an engineer and I wanted a female executive with an engineering background as my mentor. Being bold and pushy, I called the program manager to imply that she had made a mistake in choosing my mentor. "Maybe you should assign me a new mentor who is an engineer," I suggested. Looking back, I am glad I relented when the TWF staff advised me to give this new relationship a chance.
I nervously dialed his number. While waiting for him to pick up, I imagined my life unfolding like that of Sarah's in the "Little Princess." Perhaps, I would receive beautiful dresses for my birthdays and richly bound books for Christmas. My mentor picked up the phone and the first thing he did was subscribe me to The Week magazine. We chatted about the importance of being up-to-date on politics, a subject I frankly still don't know or care much about, despite my continued efforts to increase my interest in the topic.
The truth is that the expensive presents never came in the mail. What came instead were self-improvement books on managing my time, worrying less and a promise that I could call him at any time to discuss anything. So when I got worked up after arguing with my family's apartment owner threatening with eviction, when I got my terrible freshmen GPA that didn't meet the Earl Woods Scholarship requirement, or when I had second thoughts of changing my major to Russian Literature in my Sophomore year, I called my mentor. And every time I got a response on the same day. He let me whine until even I was tired of my own voice. This is how I stayed sane through my freshman and sophomore years.
With a year and a half left of school, my tuition increased three times that of most of my peers because of my visa status change. Though it was something I had anticipated, I dreaded it all the same. For a long time I had planned to ask my mentor to co-sign an international student loan. I agonized over the most persuasive way to pose this question. When I asked, he gently deflected the question. Later, I learned the implications of co-signing a loan for a large amount of money. If I had known, I think I would have better understood why it was a difficult decision for my mentor.
I furiously applied for more scholarships and survived two more semesters at Berkeley. But during this process, I was extremely disappointed that my mentor wouldn't care to sign a simple form and put me through the agony of writing scholarship essays while managing a difficult course load.
My last semester in college was approaching and my family and I ran out of money. The scholarships I received were already being used to mend the large debt on my tuition bill from the previous semesters. I was waiting to hear back from the big scholarship money I had applied for. But it turned out that I misread a crucial instruction on the application. When I found out, I broke down and called my mentor. He calmly listened and told me to talk with the officials and ask to resubmit the application.
On New Year's Eve of my senior year, I received a call from my mentor. He had made a large donation to the Tiger Woods Foundation to cover my last semester's tuition. It was my New Year's Eve present, he said. His donation, with the resubmitted scholarship I ended up winning, enabled me to study without worry, enjoy my last semester and graduate on time.
May 12th, 2012 was the date of my graduation. My mentor flew down from Oklahoma and sat through two hours under blazing sun to witness my graduation from Berkeley. My proud parents sat beside him and later commented on how gallant he was through the entire ceremony. "He didn't drink a single drop of water or take a bathroom break!" my mom told me. And my mentor only had good things to say when even my mom complained about the weather and the length of the ceremony. I know that my graduation day is and will be something very special in my memory since I already remember this recent event with great fondness.
Looking back, my mentor must have been waiting for the right time to jump in and save me. He waited until I tried all my resources and proved that I could pick myself up after let downs. He helped me become the person I am today: A self-sufficient, slightly pushy, resourceful, relatively thick-skinned, independent woman, ready to take on the world, embracing all of its challenges and triumphs. Thank you is too small a phrase to describe all that I gained from my sage mentor.