“I Want to Start a Mental Health Organization”: Q&A with Alaysia and Her Mentor Lynnette

Congratulations to the Class of 2019 at Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville, North Grand High School, Phoenix Military Academy, and Richard T. Crane Medical Prep High School! A total of more than 460 iMentor Chicago students graduated from high school this year, and we are humbled and astounded by the strides that everyone has made to reach their goals.

We spoke with Alaysia, a senior at North Grand High School, and her mentor, Lynnette McRae, to learn about Alaysia’s post-secondary and career plans and what the mentoring experience has meant to each of them.

Congratulations, Alaysia! How does it feel to have graduated high school? I feel accomplished. All my hard work and what I've overcome has paid off, because I'm going to one of my top schools. I'm really happy about that.

What are your plans for next year?

I'll attend Knox College in Galesburg, IL. and major in psychology and possibly double major or minor in business. When I was younger, I always wanted to be a doctor, and I became interested in becoming a clinical psychologist after seeing students with emotional challenges. That sparked my passion and drive. I want to start a mental health organization, and that's why I want to major or minor in business.

How did the college process go?

At first, I didn't know what school I wanted to go to. I had to start thinking about cost and distance and if I can afford it. I applied to 13 schools and I thought about what was most important to me—the environment, the academic reputation? What helped me make my final decision was the environment at Knox College. The students are open-minded and independent thinkers. It's diverse, culture-wise—they have students from 48 states and from all around the world, so that will be a unique experience for me.

Alaysia on graduation day with Lynnette
Alaysia on graduation day with Lynnette

How did Lynnette help you?

Lynnette was my support system. When I was stuck on things, she was there to help me, and to weigh the pros and cons of each situation. When it came to college, I didn't know what to expect. I was just worried about everything. But after talking to her and learning more about the process, and her telling me about her experience, it helped me know what to expect.

Her support wasn't just for academics. It was for times when I felt alone and needed to hear some positive words.

What surprised you about having a mentor?

I didn't expect Lynnette to be my support system. I just thought she'd be a lady I could talk to every now and then. But she's really important to me now. She means a lot to me. When we went to go visit a college, and she paid for me to go there and come back because I couldn’t afford it. That surprised me. She didn't have to do that. She went out of her way to do that.

What did you learn from your mentor?

To not take out my options before looking at everything. To continue being me, not to change who I am. And, because I think Lynette’s really smart, to try to continue to gain knowledge.

Lynnette, how were you able to start connecting with Alaysia?

It wasn't easy. It took us spending time together, it took Alaysia getting comfortable with who I was and who I wasn't for her to open up about who she was and some of the things going on in her life. For me, it was really important to be consistent, because I know that it’s important to be someone she felt like would show up and just be there. That was the foundation of trust that we built over time.

How did you support your mentee on the path to graduation and college?

Alaysia was already on a path where she understood the value of education. She's just driven in that way.

But the college process was new to her and wasn’t something the people in her life had experience with. The ins and outs of all the things you'd have to stay on top of. I've tried to be a sounding board for her, because she's had a tough time making decisions about her college path. She already knows what she wants to do but needed some confidence to say, “OK, this is the decision I want to make.” I try to help her deal with the uncertainties that come with a process like this, being in a very different world than the one you know.

What are you proudest of your mentee for?

I'm just so proud of how Alaysia has really come out of her shell. She gradually got to the point where she's more comfortable using her voice, advocating for herself, and in the most literal sense, pushed herself to do things like enter into her high school talent show and sing and perform. She writes a lot of poetry but had never shared that with other people, so she did that, too, in a school performance. I've been so proud to see her challenge herself.

I'm so glad that we were somehow magically paired together and I've learned so much from Alaysia. From her outlook, her desire to pursue the things that she wants and work on overcoming the obstacles in her life—both the things that she can't control as well as things she can. She’s been a huge inspiration to me and I'm really proud to know her.

What's been the best part of being a mentor?

We all know adolescence is a wild and crazy time. To be there and to witness Alaysia’s growth, her maturity, to build that relationship with her, not just as a mentor but as someone who wants to continue to support her through her career and her education and beyond. I know this relationship won't end after graduation.

Read more success stories featuring iMentor students. Learn about becoming a mentor in Baltimore, the Bay Area, Chicago, and New York.