To illustrate how people are interconnected and why mentoring matters, Bert Gervais held up a copy of his best-selling book, "Who's in Your Top Hive: Your Guide to Finding Your Success Mentors," ripped out a page, crumbled it up and threw it on the floor.
"Everybody in this room ... we are all pages in the same story," he said to about 70 men of color who gathered Oct. 13 at the Africana Studies and Research Center for the first annual mentoring match-up meeting of the student-led Scholars Working Ambitiously to Graduate (SWAG) program.
"If one of us drops off," he said, ripping out another page, and then another page each time he named another individual in the room, "what story can we tell?"
A professional speaker, entrepreneur and former career coach, Gervais was born in Haiti, came to the United States and graduated from Binghamton University. He met SWAG co-chair Thaddeus Talbot '15 through New York Needs You, a two-year career development program for first-generation college students in which Talbot is a 2012 fellow.
Using personal anecdotes, multimedia and role-playing, Gervais illustrated the effects that others have had on his life and the impact his presence -- or absence -- has had on other lives. It is all about "giving the gifts that you were designed to give," he said.
To stress the importance of formal and informal mentoring, he asked participants to reflect on how they got to Cornell and on the people who had the greatest impact on them. "You had the right pages in your story," he said, adding, "We have a responsibility to surround ourselves with people that will help move us toward our goal."
Mentoring is a two-way street, where both mentor and mentee gain from the relationship, he said.
Mentoring relationships fail because of lack of clarity in three areas, Gervais said: time commitment, the purpose of the mentoring relationship and follow-through. He then showed how mentees can initiate the conversation with their potential mentor, find common ground, offer "fresh eyes" or other ways of giving back to the mentor, and make a commitment to the mentor for the next time they meet.
He ended by stressing the importance of keeping mentoring connections alive. "Who would it impact," he asked, "if you became one of the pages that got torn out of the book?"
One of last year's mentees, Connor Cash '15, said: "Bert's speech really made me think about all the people that have had a positive impact on my life and where I would be without them, or potentially where I wouldn't be. It also gave me the opportunity to reflect on the friends and relatives I could be a potential mentor to back home."
SWAG mentor Chavez Carter, a Ph.D. student in the field of immunology and infectious disease at the College of Veterinary Medicine and president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, said the presentation "will definitely help me not only be a good mentor as a graduate student to undergrads but also be a successful mentee as a young professional."
Co-chairs Talbot and Kendrick Coq ' 15 were pleased that the talk helped build connections between SWAG members. "I was happy to see young men concerned for the wellness of others," said Talbot.
"Just watching the guys talk and laugh with one another just made me very happy. I think Bert's message resonated strongly," Coq said. "I think it stuck with the guys."