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Four Years at the Mount

Junior Year

Wise Lessons Learned

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

(4/2014) Every person has a mentor, someone that transcends the role of boss or teacher and becomes someone from whom you can truly learn. Iím not talking about learning in the sense of book learning, or the simple regurgitation of facts (shout out to "Work as Flow" from Freshman Seminar!). Iím talking about true learning: the life lessons that only come from those who possess the wherewithal and wisdom to lead others to where they need to be.

Now I may be blessed with astronomical good looks, incredible talent, and the self-deprecating sense of humor that makes both those previous statements a joke, but I have never been blessed with all the answers. Sure, I could muddle my way through life, never really worrying about the consequences or striving for more, but I didnít. Instead, I found people who I knew possessed of the kind of intelligence that I could only dream of and the kind of leadership qualities that I not only admired, but also wanted to emulate more than anything. This month, the "Four Years At the Mount" writers were challenged to pay it forward through our writing. I decided to do this by paying tribute to the people who matter most to me, my mentors. Those few people who saw something in me that no one else, not even I, could seem to grasp. This newspaper, despite all of its amazing qualities, is far too short for me to thank all of the amazing people to whom I owe my success in life. So before I begin, let me tell those teachers, friends, and spirit guides that I may not mention you by name, but you already know who you are.

Itís fitting that the first mentor I should mention by name is Mike Hillman, the editor of our newspaper and the man who brought me on when I had just entered Mount St. Maryís University as a wide-eyed little freshman. I owe Mike a lot of things. He got me my first paid writing gig and opened my eyes to the wide range of opportunities before me. He continually offers untold amounts of joy at our banters back and forth. One running joke in particular is that after three years on the newspaper, he still canít remember my actual name to save his soul, a joke made all the more hilarious by the fact that Iím the only man on the "Four Yearís At the Mount" staff, and one of two men on our college staff period. Despite all the laughs, Mike has given me the lesson that Iíll never forget, and it was one that was far more serious than I could have anticipated. The summer after my freshman year with the paper I got a very long email from Mike. At first I thought the email was filled with comments about my latest article. Instead, it was comments about my performance as a member of the staff, and let me tell you, they werenít pretty. Mike was disappointed at my commitment to the paper, at the perceived lack of gusto in the way that I worked and wrote for them. He said that heíd considered firing me several points throughout the yearÖnot exactly banner statements about my first year on the job. Mike kindly presented me with a choice, though unstated, incredibly clear. I could get my act together and work or I could leave.

Iím still here.

The lesson I learned that day was that the truth hurts, but the best medicine in the world is the truth. I was given an option to earn the position that Iíd always claimed Iíd wanted, or let this incredible opportunity disappear. It wasnít enough to just be a skilled writer. I learned the hard way that I had to be a hard worker, and thatís a lesson I havenít forgotten since.

The next lesson is a little lighter than the one that Mike taught me, but still just as important. Much like my lesson in hard work, this one occurred during that important transitory time of my freshman year. During my second semester I was positive that, despite my tender age, I had figured out how the world worked. I was in my Renaissance Literature class with my soon-to-be mentor Dr. Carol Hinds. Dr. Hinds was and is a sort of legend on the Mount St. Maryís campus. People go to her for advice and guidance, but before I knew any of this, I was some obnoxious freshman who barely bothered to read the material for class (in my defense I did read Henry V and The Rape of the Locke). Somehow, without having read a single other text from the class (this is probably a gross exaggeration but hey, itís a story for a reason), I managed to dominate class discussion. One day we were locked in the throes of an intense debate about the human behind Frankenstein (I got about 15 pages through that one). I was crushing it if I do say so myself. My points were tight and well argued, and I managed to leave a few people speechless. I was feeling pretty proud of myself when, by chance, I made eye contact with Dr. Hinds, and she gave me this look. There wasnít anything special about that look but there was something in it. In that moment, all of my pride turned into stunned appreciation.

She knew.

This whole time I thought I had been really slick, that I had somehow managed to get the best of this woman who had been teaching since before I was even born, but in one look I realized the truth. She was the one who had gotten the best of me by a long shot. Not only did I have a lot to learn, but I was also nowhere near as smart as I thought I was at first. I never missed another reading assignment. A few weeks later when we had to ask a faculty member from the department of our major to be our mentor, I jumped at the chance to see if Dr. Hinds would mentor me. To this day she still acts like sheís utterly shocked when I show up on time and am prepared for our one-on-one meetings. Iíve been blessed to continue to learn from her and it all started when she taught me one of the most important things anyone can learn: humility.

I guess this brings us to the last mentor, and if I had to pick one more person and what she taught me, itís my mom. Sheís my greatest mentor, my number one editor, and one of my best friends, and you know whatÖsheís amazing. I might be a 20-year-old husky dude with a thick beard, 13 Resident Assistants who come to me for advice, and two underclassman authors who send me their articles for editing, but I still turn to mush around my mom.

So whatís the lesson there? Some things never change.

The next time you go out and you see the person in your life who has made a positive change, go and thank them. Remember that you owe a lot to the giants who have come before you and cut a path for you. Until next time, Iím Kyle Ott, wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott