It’s spring and my old apple trees, planted by settlers in this valley, are in full blossom.

I admire the extra work that pioneers made to improve life for those who would live generations after them. They remind me of mentors who willingly contribute to others.

Think of someone who has made a significant investment in your life.

  • Why did they invest in you?
  • Do you think they invested in others too?

When I consider these questions, I think of Professor Steven Walker.

My first literature class with him was a surprise. He was young; I assumed he was a Teaching Assistant. (Later, I found out he was Chair of the English Department and got his Ph.D. from Harvard at 24.) He was smart.

His openness as a professor was legendary. He would often say, “I have never thought of that,” or, “That is an insightful point”—unique for a someone who “knows it all.” He was perennially voted “Professor of the Year” for good reasons. I took as many of his classes as I could. The engaging way he taught and learned from his students had a profound impact on me.

It was when I applied to an MBA program that I really needed him. A year and a half out of college, I prepared myself to call his office and ask (beg, plead) for a letter of recommendation. It was unlikely that he would even remember me, but he was my best chance to make it into any program. Honestly, I was a long shot.

I rehearsed what I would say and made the call. I couldn’t steady my nerves. With a breaking voice, I introduced myself. Before I could say another word, he jumped in and said, “Oh, Craig. It’s so good to hear your smiling voice.”

I was speechless. He was gracious.

Not only did he help by writing a letter of recommendation, he took extra time to proof my “well-intended” essays. His mentorship came at a critical and vulnerable time. I have spent my career trying to “pay forward” his impact on my life.

Steven Walker is an amazing example of someone who saw potential and endless possibilities in others: “It’s not the seeds in an apple, but the apples in a seed.”