As part of MENTOR’s #ThankYourMentor campaign, many people are taking the time to thank mentors who were there at critical moments in their lives. On our blog, we are featuring poignant stories from mentors and mentees who know the impact of mentoring first-hand. This story comes from Orlando White who strongly believes in the power of mentoring.
Q: What was your life like growing up? What was your support system at home?
A: I grew up in Fairfax Station, VA (a small suburb outside of Washington, DC) with my parents and little brother. Our household was a warm, happy place, and I always knew how deeply my parents, brother, aunt, uncles, grandparents and cousins loved me. My parents consistently motivated me to dream big and pursue happiness and success – they were my first mentors before I even knew what a mentor was. Even though I wasn’t the best student, my parents continued to be my biggest supporters and champions.
Q: How did things change for you in your time at college?
A: My freshman year at Howard University, I was matched with Marion and served as his mentor for three years, though he taught me far more about myself and inspired me in ways he will never fully comprehend. Marion was focused and driven in school, so much more than I was at his age, but because of uncontrollable circumstances like where he lived and where he went to school, his work ethnic didn’t guarantee that his life would lead to the opportunities that he deserved. My parents raised me to know how lucky I was. That I never had to worry about a safe neighborhood to play in. That I never had to worry about a good school to go to. I knew that Marion deserved the same.
Marion compelled me to practice a life that recognizes those beyond the small space I occupy. He taught me to step back and reflect, to be sensitive to others, to stay composed under pressure and to be a more effective leader. Through mentorship, I learned to manifest my leadership in service. I was not aware of it at the time, but working with him helped me envision a career path for myself in which I could help transform communities through the education and development of our most underserved and under-supported youth.
Q: Tell us about your professional career. How did you end up at LinkedIn and what do you do there?
A: Going to school in Washington, DC and wanting to pursue a career that would help other people, I naturally drifted toward public policy. But my senior year, LinkedIn came on campus for an info session, and I was encouraged to go despite never taking a business class and never traveling to California, where a job with LinkedIn would be. Despite all of this, I went to the informational and found myself drawn to the company. The employees demonstrated such a passion for LinkedIn’s vision: to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. I knew immediately that I wanted to contribute, but didn’t believe I had a shot of getting the job.
I had a phone screening, then was invited to Chicago for an interview. I was so nervous that I considered not showing up, but then I remembered all the people who had supported me throughout my life. The people who helped me discover and develop my passions, my knowledge and myself. I went to the interview and ultimately got the job and started in July 2015.
Currently, I work in Community Affairs for LinkedIn. LinkedIn prioritizes local philanthropy in the communities in which our employees live and work. My job is to help LinkedIn partner with the school district, nonprofits, elected officials and other community stakeholders in San Francisco to identify ways that we can do good and ensure that LinkedIn’s presence in the community is a positive one. On the day I started and at times since, I’ve dealt with imposter syndrome, but I’m lucky to have a circle of mentors who continue to see me and validate that I belong – without them I wouldn’t be here.
Q: You’ve told us about a lot of mentors and mentoring moments in your life. What makes a good mentor? And why do you believe it’s important we ensure every young person has access to a good mentor?
A: There’s a notion that to be a mentor you have to be perfect, but really, all you have to be is consistent. These relationships can be so powerful when they’re trusting, and only consistency builds trust. So much of my relationship with my mentee, Marion, was built on me simply picking up the phone whenever he called. By being there consistently and paying attention, mentors have this incredible power to see what their mentees can’t see themselves. Mentors can notice and bring out what is already there. It reminds me of a time when one of my dearest mentors, Nicole, invited me to speak at the White House right as President Obama was getting ready to leave office. Everything about that day was surreal and it was a truly special moment for me. Great mentors can make those special moments happen – and they don’t have to be as grand as walking through the White House. Mentors expand the horizons of what we believe is possible. Everyone deserves to reach further and dream bigger than they already do. That moment changed my life, and it’s important that young people get to have moments like that, where they think, “I didn’t know this was possible” and suddenly get to dream a little bigger than they did before.
If you had all of your different mentors sitting with you in one room, what would you say to them today?
Thank you not just for the things you did or provided, but also for simply being there, for believing in me, for helping me. Every mentor I’ve had has helped and challenged me to be more, and they’ve somehow made me feel that I’m still okay right where I’m at. There aren’t words for that. How does someone push you to do more and dream bigger and still make you feel like you’re enough just as you are? I feel confident where I am in my life because I’m affirmed by people who care about me and push me to be hopeful and ambitious for the future. So thank you.