She became an advocate for me.

Lydia Dobyns

President and CEO, New Tech Network

Napa, CA

There are less than a handful of times in my life that I can look back and think “there but for the grace of God, I got to go through this door and not that door,” and oftentimes I didn’t even know it was a door I was going through. The first time I can remember this happening was in high school.

I moved a lot because my dad was in the army, so when I think about meaningful connections in a community, I was never around long enough to have them. It was actually a shock when my dad retired and we settled in Oakland, and I discovered that my classmates were from families that had been there for generations. By the time I entered high school I had been in 12 schools, and because both of my parents had to overcome many challenges to get where they were (my dad was an immigrant and a doctor, and my mother was a nurse), I had in my psyche that being on the outside looking in was just how things were.

When I got to Oakland High School, I ended up taking a journalism elective because communication has always been second nature to me. My teacher had been a journalist for most of her life and teaching was relatively new to her. I thought, “This is a great opportunity to study journalistic practices.” It was really the first time I had a sense of school and the outside world as being connected rather than separate and distinct.

That teacher’s name was Ruth Slade and she became an advocate for me, helping me become editor of the school newspaper and yearbook. She treated me as if she were my boss and not just my teacher. The work felt like an important job, not just “How do I get an ‘A’?” I was using my brain, developing people management skills, and using my instincts in a way that gave me permission to be strong and vocal and not be judged for that. I had planned on becoming a criminal justice lawyer, and initially, I didn’t think journalism could be a vehicle for my career, but I soon learned how it could be. For all of these reasons, I began to feel more connected to my school community.

Ruth was also the first adult who wasn’t related to me or obliged to me, but still took a chance on me—and I felt a deep obligation to do a good job. I felt like I had been given a chance to dive into a pool in which I didn’t know if I could swim. I could say this metaphor happened again and again and again in key points in my career.

Lydia Dobyns is the President and CEO of New Tech Network, and co-author of Better Together: How to Leverage School Networks For Smarter Personalized and Project-Based Learning.

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