Marija Tesla, a graduate of Mount Holyoke, spoke to Boston public high school students who participated in Youth Lead the Change about Women’s Education Worldwide, an organization founded by Mount Holyoke and Smith College. She spoke about the importance of women’s education in furthering development around the globe, women in the media, and the importance of mentoring. The events were hosted by the Leadership Institute at Harvard College. Marija wrote this blog as a commemoration of January being Mentoring Month and of WPSP’s mentoring goal.
This past year, more than any before, I found myself trying to answer the following question: What makes a person, or a community, great? As I thought about this in my everyday work, while reading memoirs and autobiographies by (extra)ordinary individuals and their lives, and through the many meaningful exchanges and connections I had made throughout this year, a theme began to emerge: the significance of mentorship. The ability both to find and to provide mentorship is a critical part of achieving greatness, however one may choose to define the term.
At a Women in Public Service Project event hosted by Barnard College this fall, former Congresswoman Jane Harman gave the following command to current students: “When you succeed, your most important obligation is to mentor those who come after you.” This was a call to action for me, and it was not just about some far away future. It was about the seizing of moments and opportunities today in order to eventually share those experiences with others along the way. Her statement is not only about seizing all that we have to do in order to make a difference in the world, but also about the importance of listening, learning, and inspiring others along the way.
The statement, “when you succeed” does not only refer to some stereotypical distant future of power suits and executive boards, but also refers to the everyday triumphs of making connections, building networks, and affecting change. It refers to the triumphs and the incredible history we are a part of as graduates of the historic Seven Sisters Colleges. This notion, no matter how romantic, is also incredibly pragmatic; it is why I wanted to be a part of the Seven Sisters community – a community which is created and driven by extraordinary women who do incredible work and who mentor along the way. For me, nothing is as powerful as witnessing someone who was inspired or motivated by someone else’s actions. As a community, the Seven Sisters evoke greatness
partly because they inspire individual people to strive for greatness.
I am constantly inspired by my friends and other young peers who never cease to amaze me with all of the incredible things they do on a regular basis. One friend is empowering youth through digital storytelling with the help of a grant she received from the Davis Project for Peace. Another one is inspiring young girls to think about becoming scientists as she works to achieve that goal as a PhD student. A group of college students, graduates of Boston Public Schools who I spoke to at their conference, are themselves inspiration to strive for greatness through educational excellence. Those public school students in turn inspired me as much as they inspired the college students to strive for those very same things with new perspectives in mind. From political campaigns, to humanitarian efforts, to incredible adventures around the world, I am inspired by my generation and the pathways it is creating for the next. All of these people are successful, and while they may not be at the highest point of that success, they are giving all that they can along the way to help others so that others can join them. They are mentoring.
At its best, great mentorship has the ability to free someone else’s imagination. It has the ability to allow someone to dream, and further, to believe that she can achieve her dream through hard work and determination. After all, it is one thing to think something, another to share it with someone you admire, and another to make it come to life.
In the United States, the winter holiday season often evokes the centrality of community, however that may be defined. It also serves as a time of reflection. 2012 has been a big year for the Women in Public Service Project, but also for women in politics on both sides of the aisle, with more women elected to public office than ever before. Being a part of this past year’s events has been both incredibly powerful, as well as, at times, incredibly frustrating. As a recent college graduate it is inspiring to see more women elected, and to see that these changes have influenced and will continue to influence our world in critical ways. We have a lot of work to do by 2050 if we are to reach the point at which fifty percent of those in public service are women, but if we continue to strive toward this goal together, I am confident that we will get there.
Happy New Year and happy National Mentoring Month! For those who think they don’t mentor, or those who don’t think about it, January is a great month for reflection. So, ask yourself, who have you mentored, who has mentored you? Have you inspired anyone, has anyone inspired you? The rest I leave up to you.
Marija Tesla graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2011 where she studied English and Russian Language and Literature. Her senior year she wrote a creative writing honors thesis focusing on the stories of women and children during the 1990s war in Croatia. She graduated with high honors, Phi Beta Kappa. While at Mount Holyoke College, Tesla served the community as president of the Student Government Association her senior year and is currently serving her alma mater as the Young Alumna Trustee. Among many, she cares greatly about issues of war and peace, national security, nuclear proliferation, and the inclusion of women in peace building processes. She currently works at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as the Program Coordinator and Faculty Assistant for the Center for International Development and Master in Public Administration in International Development. Tesla speaks Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Russian, and has basic knowledge of Czech. She attended the inaugural WPSP events in December as well as the opening of the institute at Wellesley College. In the future, Tesla hopes to serve her country by joining the U.S. Foreign Service. Her blog will follow the events she attends, projects she is working on, and current affairs as they relate to her interests and WPSP.