A New Kind of New Year's Resolution

On a recent trip home I bumped into an old friend and mentee from high school while studying at the local Starbucks.

With an unsuspected tap on the shoulder, I turned around and there she was: the ever-energetic and outspoken Robin, the same girl I had mentored almost four years prior – only a lot taller now.

As a junior in high school, I joined the mentor program at our school, which paired juniors and seniors with a group of incoming freshmen, in order to make the new students’ transition into high school seamless and successful.

On a sticky summer day in August, the freshmen paraded through the high school’s halls, searching for their assigned mentors – us, the heralded upper-classmen who would make this whole “high school thing” somehow make sense.

I still remember meeting Robin that day, first on account of her striking beauty – her pin-straight crimson hair, her bright blue eyes, and porcelain skin – but second on account of her fabulously outspoken personality.

If we posed a question, Robin chimed in. If we played a game, Robin mastered it. If we opened the floor for comments, Robin filled the void.

There was something about her unhindered enthusiasm that made me adore her. In some ways she reminded me of myself – a well-spoken conversationalist, quick-witted, capable of making friends by the dozen. But with these striking similarities in mind, I worried she struggled with the same issues I did – low self-esteem, a lack of deep friendships, an overall feeling of insignificance… I knew that as her mentor, I had the chance to reverse this reality, to somehow make her high school experience better than my own, and so I made a conscious decision to be a friend to her.

I was by no means a superhero. I once picked her up for a football game and introduced her to some of my friends in the student section as we all cheered the team on to victory. I smiled and said hi in the hallways, stopping to chat if I had the chance. I bought her a small birthday gift her sophomore year, and took her out for celebratory chocolate shakes when she graduated, but in the grand scheme of things, it was nothing significant. I was simply a friend.

And here she was, in the local Starbucks, my little freshman Robin, grown up and still making me proud to know her. I scooped her up into a hug and charged into the business of catching up, rattling off all the important inquiries: How’s school going? Have you picked a major? Do you like your roommate?

Animatedly she gave me window into her world at MSU, where she was undecided, loving her first semester, and – surprise! – on the sailing team. I couldn’t hold back my smile stretching from ear to ear as I heard of all the great things going on in her life and tried to understand that my little Robin wasn’t so little anymore.

I said hello to her mom – who I hadn’t seen in years – and still, she remembered me, Robin’s freshman mentor.

“Of course I remember you coming by the house back then,” she recounted. “You were great to her, I couldn’t forget that.”

I was floored; she remembered.

Now that we were on the topic of the mentor program – the reason for the fostering of our friendship – Robin mentioned that she herself had become a mentor and had been the role model for another set of incoming freshmen, with me as her inspiration for the role.

In fact, she said, that when asked to review the program, she had listed me as a mentor worth emulating. And following her two years in the program, her mentees had listed her on that very same survey.

I was touched – from a simple friendship forged in 2011 new avenues of kindness, guidance and leadership were being paved; our legacy was becoming multi-faceted and expansive, the list of students whose lives had become just a little brighter growing too long for me to even count.

I would never even meet some of these students, I realized, and that’s the craziest part of it – in that moment, I realized my legacy was becoming bigger than myself.

As I said goodbye to Robin and her mom, I began to think of all the others in my life who I wanted to positively influence, the young people I wanted to cherish and encourage and love...

Zach, who loves more genuinely than I thought was humanly possible. 

Jess, who is has such touching compassion and kindness for people with disabilities.

Avery, who has unparalleled wisdom.

Tori, whose humor never fails to leave me with an aching belly and a tear-streaked face.

Dasha, whose joyful youthfulness inspires me to not take life so seriously.

Sarah, whose positivity radiates onto everyone around her.

Kathryn, whose resilience and tenacity inspires me daily.

Caroline, whose work ethic and dedication is unfathomable.

Lauren, whose Pennsylvania accent and kick-ass life philosophy brightens my days.

These are the “Robins” who give me hope in this chaotic world.

So when New Year’s Eve arrives at the conclusion of this December, I will not resolve to lose weight or read more books, like I do every year. Instead, I will resolve to live my life with the “Robins” of my world in mind: those young men and women who have so much wisdom, kindness, passion, love and intelligence to share with the world, if only one person has the boldness to invest in them first.

What will you resolve to do in this new year?