On Syracuse University Commencement 2011 and What Mentoring Means For Us

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Dr. Paul Buckley and my brother, Ralf Balbi

I remember the first time I spoke to Ralf about what his college experience would be like, and I had a list of people I told him to seek out on the Syracuse University campus. Names like Anthony Otero, Angela Morales-Patterson, Dr. James K. Duah-Agyeman, and Max Patino ring true for thousands of students on campus directly or indirectly through their work on campus for others.

Yet, this weekend was particularly special because not only was my younger brother Ralf graduating from my alma mater, but my early mentor Paul Buckley was graduating from his doctoral program. A man whose own life demands the same discipline and excellence he expects from students who cross his path, he spent hours upon hours of his time dedicated to the advancement of students of color in ways few recognize.

At his party, Paul made a speech shouting out everyone from his parents, mentees, friends, and everyone else who showed up to this gathering at the Community Folk Art Center in Syracuse. One thing that stuck out to me in this speech was this tidbit that I’ll paraphrase to the best of my ability. He said that having mentees gives mentors like him an image that they have to aspire to. That resonated with me because of where I am today and my current occupation. I remember how difficult I was to mentor. While I think I had the mental capacity, I had a hard time with anyone who tried to “school” me on something, even if it wasn’t their intention. That includes Paul.

And through that, Paul still put his hand out. He always made me feel welcome, and forgave when need be. I didn’t understand the power of that until I started to teach. Sometimes, the things people do are a reflection of their own internal pains and not about you. He understood that. Anyone who he’s ever mentored know how freely he gave of his time and energy. But as the winds blew into Syracuse, so did change. When Paul left to University of Michigan, people were sad, but they knew it was time for him to ascend the way he helped others to do.

11 years after meeting Paul, I got the chance to sit and watch him shake the chancellor’s hand just the way he’s watched so many others do. That’s why this picture means so much to me: when I introduced my brother to him, I asked him to take care of him for me. He just nodded and said “Absolutely.” Then he put his hand on my brother’s shoulder and worked from there. This weekend, I’m glad they were both taken care of.

Amen.

Jose, who is still beamin’ …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Jose VilsonOn Syracuse University Commencement 2011 and What Mentoring Means For Us

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