Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate to have multiple mentors — enlightened teachers who taught me powerful lessons and changed my outlook. The first one was my speech and debate teacher in high school, Mollie Martin.
As an educator, Mollie set high standards and was exceedingly demanding. Since we would travel by bus to distant tournaments — hours-long trips from Houston to Muskogee, Oklahoma, for example — having an authority figure who instilled in us a clear vision of proper behavior was imperative. We wore jackets and ties, looked people in the eye when we shook their hands, and said “sir” and “ma’am” to everyone.
She imparted to us a strong foundation for what we needed to know to be citizens in a democratic society. She was less concerned about where we stood on an issue than about our being able to take a stand and defend our position. She made us realize the necessity of disrupting our comfort zone and challenging our own ideas in order to sharpen and refine our thinking.*
Mollie might have only been 5 feet, 2 inches tall, but her towering personality made her one of the most imposing teachers in my academic career.
She taught me how to look for logical fallacies in arguments and evaluate the quality of the evidence presented. How to assemble my thoughts in a persuasive way. How to see both sides of an issue and to push ourselves in ways we hadn’t thought possible.
Her students went on to do great things, but she remained humble and modest, never taking any more credit than saying she gave us a push in the right direction.
But that’s what mentors do — quietly (or not so quietly, in Mollie’s case!) working behind the scenes to make their students the best possible version of themselves. They are people who see the possibility of what we could become before we see it for ourselves.
Mollie not only pushed us to work harder; she also changed our horizons, our awareness of who we might become. We could feel our intellectual and emotional capacities expanding. She often told us that everyone can accomplish more than he or she thinks they can. Mollie didn’t just make us better debaters, but better humans. I am convinced that mentors are enormously underappreciated in our society.
Mollie passed away on Christmas Day in 2018, but her legacy lives on. In the summer of 2020, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Speech and Debate Association.
*Excerpt from my book, The Ball’s in Your Court: A Doctor Shares Life Lessons from Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Abraham Maslow and other Inspiring Teachers.