No Time to Say Goodbye

COVID-19 means an abrupt pause in the relationship between Colby mentor and her second-grade mentee

CCAK holds an annual end-of-the-year barbecue for mentors and mentees to enjoy activities like face painting, coloring, and a photo booth. This year, with Colby students moving to remote learning due to the COVID-19 epidemic, that event—and fond farewells—will not take place.
By Eliza Dean ’22
April 6, 2020

One of the first thoughts I had after I received the news that I would have to leave Colby in the middle of the semester wasn’t how I would get home to San Francisco. It wasn’t where to store a dorm room full of stuff, or that I was leaving my friends. My first thought was, I need to say goodbye to my mentee.

She is in second grade, and I used to see her every week. Sometimes we practiced her reading and math in class. Other times we hung out on the playground and played games with her friends. I always knew I’d be leaving for the summer, but I assumed that, just like last year, I’d have a chance to say goodbye. This time I just left.

Departing Mayflower Hill for the semester as a result of the COVID-19 virus and transitioning to online learning has caused a whirlwind of emotions as many parts of my Colby experience cannot be transferred over to home life. A big part of my weekly life at Colby that cannot be continued was dedicated to spending time with my CCAK (Colby Cares About Kids) mentee.

CCAK is a program that connects Colby students (mentors) with local youth (mentees) in one-on-one mentoring pairs in K-12 schools within the greater Waterville area. The goal of the program is to provide the youth with an additional role model and friend who can be a consistent part of their school experience. As someone who has always enjoyed being around and working with children, the CCAK program was something I knew I had to sign up for as soon as I got to Colby. After two years of working with my mentee, my love for working with children has only grown.

As a first year, joining CCAK started out as a way for me to immerse myself in the Waterville community, but I have found that the program has played a much more influential part in my Colby experience than I could have predicted.

“The hardest part of leaving my mentee and traveling 3,000 miles away is losing that opportunity to simply focus on something bigger than myself and the increasingly strong relationship that my mentee and I have developed.”

Eliza Dean ’22

I have a very busy life at Colby, majoring in psychology, minoring in education and environmental studies, and playing on the women’s lacrosse team. Every Thursday I would make a trip over to Atwood Primary School in Oakland to visit my mentee. The opportunity to focus on building a relationship with my mentee and devoting all my attention to helping her grow as a person and student was a welcome break from the rigor of Colby, conflicts back home, and uncertainties about my future.

As a result of this consistent relationship, I considered the time we spent together sacred and important—for both of us. The hardest part of leaving my mentee and traveling 3,000 miles away is losing that opportunity to simply focus on something bigger than myself and the increasingly strong relationship that my mentee and I have developed.

I feel for the 400-plus other Colby student mentors who are no doubt feeling as crushed as I am. For me, and many other CCAK mentors, the goals and benefits of being a mentor extend far past solely the mentees. In my experience, watching my mentee grow to become more confident and sure of herself has been so rewarding that I know I’ll keep coming back to her for the rest of my college experience. Many of my fellow mentors feel the same and plan to continue mentoring until they graduate.

I won’t see my CCAK mentee until next January, when I return from a semester abroad. I worry about losing precious time that would have been spent watching her grow and mature, and I worry that the relationship that we have worked so hard to form will weaken during our time apart. Although I never got to say goodbye to my mentee, and will be sending her a letter to do so, I am already looking forward to seeing her smiling face when I finally see her again.

So, thank-you to my CCAK mentee. Although I’m sad our time was cut short this semester, I will be back. And I’ll never take another moment of our time together for granted.