In the last two weeks, I’ve been on a whirlwind of seasonal rites of passage.

First, I attended my nephew’s graduation at Tufts University. On the hilltop in Medford, Massachusetts, I listened to provosts, actresses, and valedictorians—all professing to mindfulness, new beginnings, artificial intelligence, and being true to yourself. A cacophony of peace amidst clutter, of self-identity in a world of unknowns. I was impressed by passages from every religion—Buddhism, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu—and was taken with the pomp and circumstance, the prideful parents, the gawking little siblings, and the awesomeness of futures.

Not three days later, I attended US News and World Report’s Annual Conference on Workforce—an imposing juxtaposition from the promise of baccalaureates to the realities of the job market. An impressive day-long inventory of soloists and panelists slapping you with statistics and innovations in eight-minute solo segments or 30-minute best practice reviews. From ASU to Project Lead the Way, from IBM to Strada Education, from Aspen Institute to the Samueli Foundation, my head was spinning with future possibilities and institutional gist.

But what smacked me the hardest—right between the eyes—was my own annual rite of passage, the third in this trilogy.

Out of a book of 30 year-end student letters, upon the conclusion of a year of mentoring inner-city high schoolers in NFTE’s Entrepreneurship class, I received this particularly special correspondence: a birds eye view into the mind of a kid describing his own transformation. I had to share.

“Dear Ms. Patty and Mr. Phil,

I’ve had a very successful year overall, and a large part of that is because of you. I came into this class in the beginning of the year, expecting an easy class that I could really slack off in and not worry about, thinking I have all the knowledge I need. But then you came around.

The first time I met you guys was when you talked to us about building our own “story” (a self-branding exercise for job interviews). I had never really thought about what I would say to an employer if I ever wanted a job. You guys taught me what it meant to share the person I really am with the real world.

I also remember the time you brought in four speakers to share what they had done to be successful. It really gave me the idea that I didn’t have to be a multimillionaire to be successful in life. Those people taught me that to really be successful, you have to love what you do. That the only way to make it is to be in something you really want to be in.

You have done more for my future than you can think. You’ve laid down for me what I have to do in order to really be the person I’ve always dreamed of. The Kerry* that walked into the class in the beginning of the year was a lazy guy who had no idea what it meant to be in the real world. Now, the Kerry* that is leaving the classroom knows what he wants to do in life and is willing to go the distance not only to prove to himself that he’s worthy of having the success he’s wanted, but to prove to you guys too.

Thank you for being there for me not only as my mentors, but also as my guides on how to succeed in life.

I hope we can see each other in the future as I do have big plans on how to take my business to the next level using everything you have taught me. I hope I’ve left a mark on you as much as you have on me.

Thank you for everything, from the bottom of my heart.


*This name has been changed to protect the student’s identity.

In this whirlwind week, I came away with a simple notion: we each can play a role in impacting the next generation. And as much as we can institutionalize ideas, there’s nothing quite the same as the awesome connection from one-to-one relationships—where we can be ambassadors to the real world by sharing from our heart.

My question for you: how can we leverage that?

I try by writing.