Tribute to Olathean Jim Smith

My mentor and my student

From the blog of Austin Myers
(Submitted by his grandmother, Linda Myers)

In most forms of media, the reader or viewer will encounter a character of a specific archetype, known as “the mentor.” The purpose of the mentor character is to guide the protagonist, (or protagonists) and teach the necessary lessons they need to learn to overcome various obstacles throughout the story. However, sometimes the mentor also becomes the sacrificial character, either to protect their students or for a greater good. Common examples of this archetype include biblical characters such as Moses, Jesus, Elizabeth, and even God himself in some instances served as a mentor.

In modern media, mentor characters include Zordon from the long lasting Power Rangers series, Obi Wan from Star Wars, Mufasa from the Disney film The Lion King, and finally Mickey Mouse and Master Yen Sid from the popular video game franchise Kingdom Hearts. The mentor character also serves to assist in the growth of the main characters, with the latter sometimes becoming mentor figures themselves. This archetype does not exist merely in fictional media, but in the real world as well, as humans are constantly being taught by others and passing down the knowledge they learned.

I write using personal experience, because in my lifetime I have been both the student and the mentor, being taught by a man who grew up facing adversity in his life and has had many years worth of life lessons to teach, and as that knowledge was taught to me, I would soon pass on the knowledge to a young woman who was but a few months younger than me.

When I was of the age of twelve, I had become a student of what was formerly known as Oregon Trail Junior High School. Thinking this was a chance to begin anew once again, I had tried constantly to make friends and strong bonds with other students. However, with the exception of a few, the students I attempted to make friends with harassed me and teased me mercilessly, with one instance  a fellow student grabbed me so tight he left a series of bruises on my arm. Because of the bullying I faced, I was beginning to wonder if I was going to remain forever alone without a true friend by my side. At that moment, I met a man who would soon teach me that I was not the only one who faced adversity in life. This man I met faced adversity growing up on the streets of New York, having to spend most of his childhood working to make ends meet. In his high school years, he participated in various sports such as football, which allowed him to obtain a scholarship to Ottawa University after his four years of secondary education. After his education in Ottawa, he became a science teacher and football coach, eventually becoming principal of Oregon Trail Junior High School in Olathe, Kansas.

Years later, this man became a part of the staff of the Olathe School District’s North Lindenwood Support Center and a member of the Olathe Optimist Organization. In 2005, he became the mentor of a frail, young, adolescent boy who had faced typical middle school troubles of his own such as being excessively bullied and harassed by his fellow classmates and peers. The man taught the young boy various life lessons such as the value of education, the value of hard work (going even so far as to offer him a part time job assisting in restocking vending machines), and the ability to take action and stand up for himself. That boy the man took under his wing almost seven years ago was myself. With the knowledge and wisdom I obtained from my friend and mentor, I was able to grow stronger as a person and step out of my comfort zone as well. Because of his teachings, I gained the courage to stand up for myself and not allow myself to be harassed that easily, even though the harassment from others kept coming more and more. From the man, I gained the tactics of ignoring what the person is saying, being witty and reflecting their cruel jokes back at them, which kept me safe in the years succeeding my first meeting with him. Three years after our first meeting, I was promoted from Oregon Trail Junior High School to Olathe Northwest High School, where I would meet a young woman who would soon become my best friend, my girlfriend, and my own student to pass down the knowledge my teacher passed down to me.

My student has also faced a bit of adversity in her life, just as I have and my mentor before me. At the age of eighteen months, she was adopted by a family living in Wyandotte County at the time. Soon after, her parents adopted two more young children, one a year older and another six years younger than she. Like myself, she was always curious about the world around her, wondering daily about the mysteries of her own life. At age fifteen, like myself, she enrolled in Olathe Northwest High School. We first met in our Physical Education class after I nearly tripped on my shoelace on the track (I was not good at shoe tying as a kid, and I was in a hurry that day because I was still getting used to my class schedule).

When we introduced ourselves, we could sense we were both nervous as we were both the first friends of each other at our new educational institution. As our friendship progressed, we began to teach each other various life lessons, her teaching me not to be so serious and be more open sometimes, (as I was not a big fan of asking for too much at the time and usually kept my emotions locked and hidden from others, due to years of facing harassment at Oregon Trail) and like what my mentor taught me as well, to stand up for my beliefs and goals. I taught her what I was taught as well, the value of education and a strong work ethic, setting goals and dreams for the future, as well as teaching her to use her hidden potential. Like with my mentor, we acted as a form of support to each other. For example, in November 2009, a family member of mine pulled a stunt that upset me for about a week. I was so upset for that week, I would not talk to anyone, let alone my own friend and student.

She approached me one day in the morning before school and just looked at me. She then reached out to me and hugged me while saying, “everything will be okay, we are all here for you.” The funny thing was, she did not even know what was going on, and I tried to keep a silent smile while hiding my anger at the betrayal of the family member who hurt me and broke my heart only a week before, so I spent the day wondering how she even knew I was upset the past week. There have also been a few times when I have been there for her and helped her out, such as when she learned a guy she had feelings for was the same guy that was harassing me in my eCommunications class, which was a huge shock for her as she was oblivious  to what had been happening. My hope is that someday, she will pass on the knowledge I taught her down to a student of her own, and that student of hers will continue the cycle.

These two have expressed, (quoted from my grandmother) “knowledge beyond [their] years” to the point where they have been known to express high signs of intelligence. After all, my mentor was also a science teacher before becoming a principal of my former junior high school, and my student has the potential to be in honors courses during her college years, which is her academic goal as she prepares to start college and study criminal justice. I consider these two part of my emotional support group, knowing that I can ask them advice and they will not judge me whatsoever. I can engage in a mature conversation with these two and express my opinions on a situation occurring in the world, whether it may be political, economic, or international, such as my strong democratic opinions and my strong religious beliefs. Like I have said before, with these two, I have been able to grow as a person, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Many people may wonder about these two, “where are they now?” My mentor retired in 2011 and is now living peacefully with his wife in Gardner, Kansas, though he occasionally visits the Wal-Mart in which I am currently employed at. Matter of fact, his most recent visit inspired me to write this essay as it made me think of his teachings and how I passed them down to my own student. My student, however, has also relocated and is now experiencing her first job and is preparing to study criminal justice.

One Response

  1. There will never in the history of the Olathe School District be another Jim Smith. He is not replaceable. He has helped so many.

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