Standing on the Shoulders of Others

By Mickey Dunaway | Reprinted with Permission by Currents Magazine |May 2023 | Cornelius, NC

We have a bluebird house in our backyard, and we relish the hours we spend drinking coffee and watching the bright-blue male and subdued-blue female mates build a nest, nurture their eggs, and spend every waking hour feeding their brood once they hatch.  And, if we are fortunate, we get to see the fledglings escape the comfort of their temporary home to explore the joy of being a bluebird in the world that awaits them.

May is a good month to think about mentors—those who have guided us and recognize those we have helped find their way in our complicated world. 


MENTOR ( someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person— to teach or give advice or guidance to (someone, such as a less experienced person or a child)to act as a mentor for (someone)


Lots of high school and college graduations this month, too.  Many people confuse the meaning of commencement as an ending of something—usually high school or college.  However, these days it just grates on me to see preschool and kindergarteners wearing graduation regalia.  Give me a break. 

Back to my point.  Because commencement is so strongly associated with finishing school, it must celebrate an ending.  WRONG. 

Commencement’s root word is to commence or to begin—in this case, a phase in the lives of the celebrants.   As graduates prepare for the unknown—vast and undetermined—this is a prodigious time for grandparents to lend an ear and a voice as a mentor. 

As a longtime high school principal, it is easy, particularly in these days of STEM emphasis, for soon-to-be graduates to fail to give proper consideration to their strengths in areas outside of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Our fractured world desperately needs college students majoring in:

  • Teaching
  • The Arts: painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, cinema, music, and theater
  • The Social Sciences
  • And don’t forget the welders, the plumbers, the carpenters, the mechanics, the caregivers, the barbers and beauticians, and bakers who develop their futures at technical colleges

Students about to commence the next step in their lives need mentors to help them explore their talents in all education options—or none.  An apprenticeship with an artisan has been a time-honored formula for learning for centuries.  Central Piedmont Community College serving Charlotte and Mecklenberg County had a latest enrollment of 53943.  Unmatched by any NC four-year institution.

Sometimes a grandparent, as a mentor, celp their much-loved fledglings find their particular aptitude and show them how to develop and magnify it at the next level so that it becomes the thing that brings them a lifetime of success and joy. 

The family mentor is a unique opportunity.  After all, teens often listen more closely to grandparents or beloved aunts or uncles than they do to their parents.  Trust me.  It’s not bad.  It is a teen thing!  Schools’ counselors and teachers should offer suggestions, but the decision of where to go and what to pursue next belongs around the kitchen table, not in a school office.


May is a month when spring renewal is the air covering car hoods and nasal passages to renew relationships with our former mentors.  Time to spread a little pollen and goodwill with mentors of our past.  Mentors are generally patient people who don’t expect a thank you with any immediacy attached to it.  

So, has it been years since you last had a conversation with your mentor?  That doesn’t have to be an issue, because it is never too late to thank the people who nudged and pushed you to be who you are today.


Remember the words of one the world’s greatest scientists, Sir Isaac Newton

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.