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I am grateful for the transformative experiences in my career created by mentors - lawyers who were able to look beyond differences like race and gender that sometimes obscure the ability to form meaningful mentoring relationships. They saw in me what I could not see clearly - my potential.
My mentors encouraged me to pursue my dreams. They supported me during tough times with practical advice, words of encouragement and a model of success. My mentors were unwilling to let me expect less of myself than I was capable of delivering. Without a strong support system in my academic life, work life and family life, the prospect of a rewarding legal career would have been beyond my reach.
I am the first lawyer in my family. Because I did not know a single lawyer before I entered law school, my role models for lawyers were towering figures that I had read about in history books. While those historical figures inspired me to dream big, the mentors in my life helped me translate my image of a successful lawyer into the skills and judgment needed to successfully practice law. My mentors helped me decipher the many codes that exist in law practice that can affect a new attorney's progress.
My mentors provided me with the benefit of their sound judgment and taught me how to formulate my own. They were honest in their evaluations of my performance. When I performed well, they told me. When I needed to do better, they also told me. Their candor gave me the tools to develop my own judgment, which I could employ for self-evaluation. My mentors spoke on my behalf in meetings and discussions held outside my presence. Having invested in my development, my mentors encouraged others to trust and rely on me.
As a new lawyer, I sometimes doubted the soundness of my judgment and ability. But I never doubted my mentors'. On those occasions, my mentors' confidence and willingness to trust me were substitutes for my own. Today, I carry the greatest gifts my mentors gave me - the standard of excellence that they demanded of themselves and those with whom they worked and the self-respect and confidence fostered by achieving that standard.
To this day, I do not know what motivated my mentors to share their wisdom so generously. But I do know the value of having a mentor at critical stages in my career. And now, I also know the fulfillment of mentoring others. Mentors can inspire us by the very presence of their humanity and generosity in the midst of pursuing the challenge of leading a successful and meaningful life.
The Honorable Wilhelmina M. Wright is an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
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