How do I say thank you to my mentor, ten years later?
May 9, 2007 6:42 PM   Subscribe

A woman I greatly admire gave me a pep talk about all the potential and promise I had and how I'd go out into the world and do something with myself. Being incredibly insecure and full of self-doubt, I didn't believe her. That was 10 years ago...

... well, in a little over 2 months from now, it will be exactly 10 years to the day. Wonder of all wonders, I actually turned out okay. We had just finished lunch and for some reason, I'm not sure why, I pocketed a nickel thinking I'd keep it as a reminder. When I got home, I sealed it in an envelope, folded it in thirds, and wrote "Nickel bet, 7/16/97. Do not open til 7/16/07."

That envelope has been with me all along the way. I've had it in my wallet, tacked up on a board, tucked in my journal, stored in my desk drawer. It may seem silly, but it's something I look at from time to time and am reminded of how much of a positive impact this woman had on me. Now that the date is fast approaching, I want to do something for her. For me it stands as a testament to the fact that sometimes the little things you do for people have an immense impact.

I am almost postive she has no idea I kept that day or that moment as anything remarkable or special. In fact, I doubt she would even recall that day. I haven't actually talked to her in several years. She's currently some kind of high level administrator at a very prestigious university and we do have some mutual friends and acquaintances. How do I show my appreciation while incorporating this envelope and this nickel in the gesture? Should I just write a note and send it to her? Should I include some other kind of gift? Our paths might cross in the fall, should I wait to do something in person?

I not only want to say thank you, I also want to do something for her, but I'm at a loss as to exactly what. I appreciate any and all ideas.
posted by SoulOnIce to Human Relations (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Print this.
Send it to her.
posted by Dizzy at 6:45 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take her out to lunch.
posted by johnjreiser at 6:46 PM on May 9, 2007

Call her and tell her how well you are doing and how much her words meant to you. This is the best thing any educator can hear.
posted by fair_game at 6:52 PM on May 9, 2007

One of my favorite moments on the TV show "The West Wing" was when President Bartlet gave a shaken Leo McGarry a cocktail napkin on which Leo had written "Bartlet For America" from the day Leo first brought up a presidential bid to the then-governor*.

It was a reminder to a man whose faith in himself was faltering that his faith in one man at one critical juncture of both their lives carried great meaning.

Frame the envelope. Give it to her over lunch, but only after you've told her what you told us. I can't imagine a greater gift than knowing your love has made a significant difference to someone's life.

*I'm probably not remembering this exactly correctly, but I'm close enough.
posted by peacecorn at 6:57 PM on May 9, 2007

Write a letter explaining all this and invite her to lunch.
posted by phrontist at 6:59 PM on May 9, 2007

Have the nickel incorporated into a piece of jewelry, a paperweight, the top of a momento box, etc., and send it along with a letter.
posted by textilephile at 7:15 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can buy or make (balsa+glue) a small shadowbox showcase your nickel, picture, and a small card summarizing the above. Date it, sign it, and put a tiny piece of acrylic on the front. Well constructed enough to have permanence, but small enough to be a humble and non-imposing gift.

And, of course, reminisce over a meal.

All of the suggestions here are fantastic. The trick is to overcome the shyness you feel at being forgotten or insignificant. Communicate your feelings as best you can and everything will turn out fine.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:45 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's a different opinion.

Skip the nickel thing. Presentations like that can be a bit weird or forced and it's tough to convey the item's meaning.

Write a letter. Tell her how it has been. If you remember specifics from the lunch, talk about those, connect it with what happened in your life. Offer to take her out for lunch.

When you do meet up, go ahead and tell the story of the nickel and that you came across it recently. If it seems appropriate, offer it at that time. I'm not sure why but I feel pretty strongly that the order is story then plan to give nickel not give or plan to give nickel then the story.

There are also people whose personality is such that you know they would love to have it. If that's so then that's what you do.
posted by BigSky at 8:04 PM on May 9, 2007

A heartfelt letter on elegant, sturdy stationary, saying exactly what you've said above. It's likely that she will treasure the letter as you have treasured the coin.
posted by lhall at 8:06 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: nthing a letter that spells out how important and inspiring her conversation with you was.

Also, letting her know that you intend to pass on her message by being a mentor yourself. If you've done that already, then let her know. If you aren't in a position to mentor now because you haven't reached a certain career goal, then I think a donation in her name to a charity would be a wonderful way of expressing your desire to pass it forward. I'd suggest a scholarship fund, either at her university or through an association that you belong to. Or any club for girls and young women that had significance for you when you were younger. Making it for $555.55 would be a cute way to bring the nickel back into things.
posted by saffry at 8:18 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I vote for the letter. Good stationary, heartfelt, go over things so that the story makes sense even if she does not remember that day. Lunch, a call, or a gift might be nice in addition, but the letter is the main thing.
posted by yohko at 8:20 PM on May 9, 2007

Knowing that something she once said or did actually made a difference in someone's life will be a very satisfying gift in itself.

Send her an e-mail, give her a standing invitation to call you sometime if she'd like to go to lunch, and keep the nickel.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:03 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Keep the nickel, letting her know that it will remain a constant reminder as it has over the last ten years. And that it remains a reminder for the years to come.
posted by silly110671 at 9:19 PM on May 9, 2007

Definitely go with the letter. I know if someone gave me a coin like that I would be touched, but it would be a little weird and I wouldn't know what to do with it. Even worse if it was framed...should I hang it on the wall? Put it on my dresser? But if I had a letter, it would be this special private thing that I could read again when I was down or frustrated with my high-level administration duties and feeling out of touch with students. Also, I think you should keep the coin forever as a little reminder. Just think what it will mean in ten more thirty...
posted by rio at 9:34 PM on May 9, 2007

I'd frame the nickel and the envelope together, and give the framed stuff to her with a simple, sincere thank you.

I have a personality that lets me do this sort of thing, so I could do it.

Also, if someone gave me a nickel framed like that with a similar story, I'd be flattered all to hell. I'd put it up in my office and tell my friends proudly. Really.

Everyone likes to hear a story that they're the hero in, so don't forget that part, whatever you do.
posted by SlyBevel at 11:04 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please keep the nickel. Send your thoughts, but keep the nickel.

I've mentored a few folks in my day. Sure, I've taught them a few tricks and even smoothed over a bump or two along their way. But mostly I just believed in them, let them know I believed in them, and made them believe in themselves. In my opinion, overcoming the hurdle of self-doubt is the the most important step to success.

Your friend saw something, but it was YOU that made it happen. That nickel became your talisman and a reminder that you could, should and would be a success (or, as you put it, 'turned out okay!')

Mentors often love to hear that their words have had a positive effect. So write a letter, meet for lunch or have her over for dinner-- just let her know that she did her job. Let her know that her thoughts were with you for years. Tell her about the nickel. She'll smile and be filled with tremendous satisfaction that she helped pushed someone forward towards their potential.

But that nickel--- that's yours. It's a sign of what YOU did, and you should never let it go. Nor should you let it stop you from going further--- perhaps you can bet yourself a dime over the next 10 years!
posted by F Mackenzie at 12:03 AM on May 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

dude, that's a lucky nickel. take it to the nickel slots at the Golden Nugget. with the jackpot you hit, you can buy her an all expenses paid vacation to the french riviera. she'll enjoy that much more than a framed nickel ...
posted by 5bux at 12:22 AM on May 10, 2007

Good suggestions. One more: Whatever you want to do, get it done now.

A professor helped me this way when I was in college.

He died before I could tell him thank you. It was not until I saw his obituary that I realized how stupid I was to assume we had all the time in the world.
posted by sacre_bleu at 1:49 AM on May 10, 2007

Maybe instead of the nickel, you could send a cool old nickel, like a buffalo nickel or something.
posted by textilephile at 4:22 AM on May 10, 2007

I agree with the suggestion that you keep the nickel, unless you become a mentor to someone in the future and pass it along to that person.

Regardless of what you do, though... What a great story! Thanks for sharing it!
posted by tentacle at 4:58 AM on May 10, 2007

In the latest "science of happiness" book by Martin Seligman he states that doing one of these gratitude rituals (details not important) where you communicate the substance to the person who helped you in the past is one of the two or three most useful things you can do for your own psychological well-being.
posted by bukvich at 7:32 AM on May 10, 2007

Give her a nickel, plus interest over the 10 years.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:38 AM on May 10, 2007

I agree with the idea of making a contribution to a scholarship fund, or some other charity or institution she may favor. Make the contribution honoring her name.
posted by Doohickie at 11:25 AM on May 10, 2007

Lots of good suggestions. I think letter and nickle. textilephile had some excellent suggestions. If she is anything like me the nickle will be a treasure as well as your letter. I've saved an acorn from a lady I meant for a few hours. A barcelet ( value under $5.00) from a customer. Each are folks that though not part of my everyday life had moved me to treasure my meeting of them. If I received your letter and nickle "weird" is not what I would think--touched to the soul to think my words had provided meaning to someone.

Another suggestion is to send a small box of some sort with the nickle inside. On my desk is a sweet porcelain egg box--contains an acorn, shark teeth and a small bit of rock from Crestted Butte.
posted by dsaelf at 11:33 AM on May 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all so very much for your great suggestions. I've taken them all to heart.

I've decided to do a few things. First, I am also going to write her a heartfelt letter and try my darnedest to get it to her on the 10 year anniversary. Second, I am going to establish a scholarship in her name at her alma mater (which also happens to be mine). I've inquired about how to do this and hopefully I can have it in place by the fall. Lastly, I am going to frame the nickel for me to keep and frame another nickel for her to keep. My wish is that it'll be something that she can look at and know that she is appreciated.
posted by SoulOnIce at 4:48 PM on May 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

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