When my grandmother told me the story of her life, I was floored by the depth of her resilience. A few months after her birth, she had been sold to a family with food and a stillborn daughter. After her adopted family died when she was seven, she wandered over a hundred miles on her own in search of her birth family.
From tips on her blog about work-life integration, to taking calculated risks and being heard in business, to mentoring women and people of color to help them capitalize on opportunities, Shellye is consistently uplifting others. As a woman of color, Shellye is a beacon of success for individuals who have traditionally lacked equal access to leadership positions and she speaks openly and honestly about her experiences.
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.
My path to Stanford University was paved in large part by Mrs. Sara St. John, my high school extended learning teacher and one of my most pivotal legacy leaders. I attended a public school in rural Iowa, and Mrs. St. John actively worked to make sure that my locality did not affect my academic opportunities.
She believes in the power of questions, the importance of optimism and the beauty of boldness, and recognizes that it always starts with people. Had I not learned these lessons from her, I never would have had the courage to launch my own organization. I owe her a sincere debt of gratitude. It is because of her that I recognize it’s not just what I do, but how I do it, that can have the greatest impact on the world.