This blog post is included as part of the “Her Story” series, which celebrates the stories of pivotal women in our students' lives that inspire, motivate and embolden them. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the ideas, views or opinions of LAAF.org.
If you ask a Clevelander to name their hometown hero, I suspect they would probably say someone like Jesse Owens or Lebron James. For me, however, a heroine would come to mind. Although Natasha Holiday is only just a few years older than I, she’s been an extraordinary mentor, confidant, and role model. And, over the decade-plus that I have known her, she has been a powerful source of inspiration in virtually every area of my life. While I have been blessed to have many people help shape who I am and who I aspire to become, Natasha has uniquely encouraged me to pursue professional excellence and love my family intensely.
I first met Natasha while I was a visiting undergraduate student at Harvard College and she was a second-year graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. We grew up on the same side of town in Cleveland, Ohio, and both worked at our Congresswoman’s district office. When the director of the district office learned I was going to spend a semester in Cambridge, she immediately called Natasha and asked her to look after me. Thus began an enduring mentorship that has lasted through several seasons of life.
As a student, Natasha quickly took me under her wing. She would regularly invite me to join study sessions for finance class with her classmates, affording me unique exposure to the graduate school experience. She also helped me prepare for summer internship recruiting while she practiced for her own full-time interview process. Ultimately, I ended up getting a scholarship and an internship at Goldman Sachs, while she received and accepted a full-time offer at the firm. And while she didn’t know I was watching, she taught me how to maintain relationships with the people who matter most. She balanced her schoolwork and professional pursuits with preparing to marry her fiancé and being available to her mother and siblings. For a kid from a neighborhood that incarcerated more black boys than it graduated from high school, Natasha was my real-time, real-life model of academic and professional excellence. Also, as a young man from a place where there are few fathers, and even fewer husbands, Natasha was an early teacher of selfless love and service. Up until this point in my life, I’d never met anyone in such close proximity who encouraged and inspired me so much.
This remains to be true, but even more so, to this day. As Natasha has become a wife, mother, and a senior professional, I have seen her accomplish HERoic feats. For example, she gave birth to a son, helped to situate her mother into retirement and was promoted to managing director at her firm all in the same year. Although by all accounts she was successful, I watched her persevere through the tremendous adversity required to pull it all off. In another situation, I watched her handle defeats with grace and rebound resiliently. As a consequence, she continues to be one of my first phone calls in every major career transition. And, before I married my beautiful wife, we visited Natasha for the weekend so we could get her blessing. Over ten years after she effectively adopted me as her little brother, Natasha is still mentoring me, setting an example of professional excellence, and inspiring me to be a better husband, father, son and brother.