Every student at some point feels he or she is “too cool for school.” In middle school, we try to avoid looking like a “nerd” at all costs; in high school, we struggle desperately to find our niche, and in college, we’re afraid to show school spirit for fear of being labeled lame.
But the truth of the matter is, if we go through our education detached and uninterested, we will miss out on making some of the sweetest memories, forging some of the strongest friendships, and learning some of the most important lessons life has to offer. We will also prevent ourselves from finding the best mentors out there: our teachers.
Yes, in college, there are those professors who assign too much homework or ruin a party night. There are coaches who are just plain mean, and there are advisers who we can tell really don’t care about our success or wellbeing. But for every one of these kinds of professors, coaches, advisers or mentors you come across, there are an equal number of amazing people who can help guide and nurture you throughout your education, but only if you adopt the right mentality. You have to realize the power of a teacher to inspire you and to change you before you can find the ones who have been able to do that all along.
In high school, I didn’t have this outlook on my education. I was always focused on the next best thing in my life at that time: joining new activities and clubs, applying for new jobs, getting into college and gaining my independence. As the saying goes, I was too busy looking ahead to appreciate what was in front of me.
In front of me were two amazing mentors: my journalism teacher, Mrs. Hopper, and my volleyball coach, Mrs. Nagy. Unfortunately, I lost them both before I was able to realize exactly how much they meant to me.
Mrs. Hopper suddenly passed away from leukemia in the first week of my junior year, and Coach Nagy died of melanoma just last summer. Naturally, their deaths hit me pretty hard. I had never experienced this type of pain before, or this type of devastating loss, for that matter. Not only was I aching for my teacher and coach, people who never failed to make my school days brighter (in a building without windows, nonetheless!), but I was hit with the terrible realization that I had taken these women for granted. Never had a cliché rang so true in my ears: you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
People look at the word differently after they have lost someone they loved. Everyday life triggers bittersweet memories, pangs of heartache, emptiness and sorrow. Reminders abound of a life cut short.
For me, it is every time I sit down to write, wondering what Mrs. Hopper would think if she could see me now and if she would be happy with my grammar and style. It is every time I enjoy an Oreo, Mrs. Hopper’s favorite snack. It is every time I see a rainbow, which reminds me of Mrs. Nagy’s contagious smile. It is every time I find myself back in my high school gym, where Coach would make us sprint tirelessly while she happily danced to the never-ending song in her head.
Our teachers, coaches, advisers, and mentors have the power to impact us beyond teaching us the multiplication tables, showing us how to apply for scholarships, or giving us the perfect pep-talk before a championship game. If we let them, they can help us find and define ourselves in the busy world of our teenage and young adult years.
I credit Mrs. Hopper with teaching me the foundation of everything I know today about journalism. The two years I had with her in class, looking back, were jam-packed with lessons about interviewing, lead writing, proper layout technique, and the fundamentals of photojournalism. But not once did I feel like learning all of this was a chore. Mrs. Hopper had the uncanny ability to disguise learning with doing: we ran around the school during class periods collecting news, we were constantly writing for the school newspaper, and of course, we often got sidetracked talking about current events.
But beyond the classroom, Mrs. Hopper taught me about determination, passion, and friendship. I looked up to her as a journalist and as a nurturing, caring person. She was my second mother, especially as we stayed late during newspaper production to make deadline. Through it all, she helped me find confidence not only in my news judgment and my writing, but in myself as well.
Similarly, while I never actually had Coach Nagy as a teacher (she taught accounting, and I’m a journalism major, so you do the math), I admired her ability to connect with her students. She was easily one of the most popular people in the school, not just because she was able to reach so many students (she was a business teacher and also a volleyball and basketball coach), but because her students didn’t have to feel “popular” to talk to her or turn to her for advice. Mrs. Nagy was down to earth, warm and inviting, and she was always seeing students in her off periods to chat or to help them out in any way she could.
I learned about poise, respect and gratitude from Coach Nagy during the volleyball season. She cared just as much about winning as making her girls happy and proud of her as a coach. Nagy would never fail to thank us for our hard work during the game and for continually pushing her to be a better teacher and coach, just as she pushed us to be better players.
I cannot thank these two women enough for being there for me during my tumultuous high school career and for showing me what it means to be a true mentor. Unfortunately, I had to lose Mrs. Hopper and Mrs. Nagy to realize their influence, but to honor and remember them, I hope to inspire others to open their eyes before it’s too late.
Be willing to learn more from your professors than just what is in your textbook, and be sure to tell them that honestly and often. Turn to the coaches or advisers you trust for life advice, not just game strategy or career tips, and remember to thank them for their help every chance you get. And most importantly, know that if you let them, your mentors will matter more to you than you ever could have imagined.
Occasionally, I catch myself yearning to go back to high school, not only because the job market is as terrifying as all get-out at the moment, but also because I wish I could spend just a little more time with Mrs. Hopper and Mrs. Nagy, my beloved mentors, to tell them how much they really did, and still do, matter.
Nicole Alliegro will be a junior at Ramapo College of New Jersey (Class of 2014). She is studying Communication Arts with a concentration in journalism and is editor of the campus newspaper. She will intern at WABC-TV in New York City in the fall. Aside from reading and writing, Nicole enjoys traveling, watching anything on Bravo and spending time with her family and friends. Follow her on twitter or send her an email.