20 for 20: Andy Gutman and Emmanuel Tay

As the school year gets into full swing--here's the story of an Albany High School senior, Emmanuel Tay (who goes by Tay) and his mentor, Andy. 

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Tell us a little about yourself, Tay: I’m a senior at Albany High School. Before Albany High, I attended Brighter Choice Charter Schools and I work there after school four days a week, helping younger kids. I have many interests including boxing and wrestling, art, poetry, writing and acting. In addition to Sponsor-A-Scholar, I’m also a part of Albany High’s JROTC program.

Tell us a little about yourself, Andy: I went to Bethlehem High School and then SUNY Geneseo, where I studied accounting. I was lucky to have a financially secure upbringing and a supportive family. When I was in my first year of college I got really sick with what was later diagnosed as Crohn’s disease/Colitis. This was the first time I really faced a challenge in my life. I was lucky to have a good support system. Over time, and after several surgeries, I got better. As much as I never would have asked for this disease, it made me who I am today, and for that, I’m grateful. I now serve as the local president of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, and I often share my story as part of that work. I think we’re shaped by our challenges. After college, I moved to Rochester and worked as an accountant for twelve years. I met my wife there, and had a successful career, where I gained skills and experience. In time, I realized that I didn’t want to be an accountant, I wanted something else. I started talking with my dad, who along with a partner, owns Bennett Contracting. I decided to move back to the area to work there as the CFO. That was three years ago.

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Tay, what was it like for you at Albany High over the past three years? Lots of people say that junior year is the hardest. For me it was my freshman year. At Brighter Choice, it was a much smaller school, and I knew the teachers and even the principal--I was part of the first class of students to graduate from the middle school there. But at Albany High School, I had trouble adjusting to the amount of work, and I didn’t know who to ask for help. I had so much independence--after years of wearing a uniform to school, I could wear whatever I wanted, but that was a challenge too. I was overwhelmed by the number of opportunities--just the clubs that were offered were mind-blowing to me. I didn’t know where to start. I really struggled academically that first year because I was used to a different environment. Then, due to a series of circumstances--joining the JROTC, and deciding to pursue a career in the military, I found the drive to face the challenges head-on. I really credit my advisor in JROTC with helping me explore all of my opportunities and letting me know that I could go to college, or pursue a career in the military. He really helped me to focus and see what my options could be.

I remembered that one of my teachers in middle school told me “If your academics match your potential--the world is yours.” I really took that advice to heart. I knew I wanted to go to college and, after getting involved with the JROTC, I began to focus on becoming a military officer. I found the drive to hold myself accountable. I learned that no one else was going to push me to get my work done, or ask for help. Having this goal helps to keep me focused. Since that first year, I’ve made honor roll many times. I also work every day (except Tuesday) after school at Brighter Choice. I like being able to see the kids grow and move on. It brings joy to my heart to know that I had something to do with their growth and success. I’ve learned the value of time management and making priorities. I need to balance school, work, JROTC and other commitments. I always keep my focus on my goals.

Tay: Now that you’re a senior, what advice do you want to share with other students? In high school, perception is everything. But I’ve learned that you shouldn’t assume anything. Don’t judge a person before you speak with them. Many times, I’ve been surprised by someone’s acting talent in drama class or in some other class.

Also, teamwork is the key to success. It’s really important to be able to work with others, and I try hard to mentor both younger students and the kids who are in my grade. Often other kids come to me for advice, which I’m really glad about. I think it shows my potential to be a leader.

Tay, what is your goal for this year? I want to ensure that when I leave high school I can pass along the knowledge that I’ve gained to others. I want to affect the kids who are close to me (in my grade) and those who aren’t close to me. I want to help others to find their potential and succeed.

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I want to pursue my dream of being in the military, but at the same time, I don’t want to make any mistakes. I’m already nervous about what will happen after high school because nothing is guaranteed. I want to find a place where I know I can succeed.

Andy (to Tay): No one knows what the future will bring. Setting the goal is the important thing. If you need to change your goal, you can. It’s ok to make mistakes.

Andy, what would you say to a someone who is a new mentor? The mentor needs to initiate the process and be persistent. Sometimes (though not in our case) it can take awhile. Try to find a shared interest early on. This can help to build a relationship before there is a real relationship. Also, keep at it, mentoring is extremely rewarding.

Tay, what would you say to a student just meeting their mentor? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, be open minded--when I first learned I was going to have a mentor who was an accountant at a construction company, I didn’t know what to think. We found common interests and over time, we built trust.

Andy: What have you learned from Tay? I’m continually impressed by his poise and the way he speaks with adults. Mentor training prepared me for the possibility that it might be hard to connect with a teenager. I can see where that would happen with many students, but not Tay. He is very confident in talking with adults. I’m also amazed by the way that he finds other mentors who support him in other aspects of his life, which I think is a great skill.

Is there one moment that stands out for both of you--when you ‘clicked’ as a mentor and mentee? Tay: My promotion night for JROTC. I became the Battalion Commander of Albany High's JROTC. Andy came and I saw him from across the room and I was really glad he was there. He pinned the rank on my shoulder. Afterward, I introduced him to my godmother and my captain from JROTC. From that moment, I really felt like he was part of my family.

Andy: I’d say the second time we met--when we worked out at the YMCA I thought, this is going to be good. I can talk to him. But also, when I went to his promotion night and got to be a part of the ceremony. That was really special.

Andy, how does mentoring make you feel? I love mentoring. When I worked in Rochester, I was at a point where I had people who worked for me. I always tried to help them build their skills. I wanted them to get to a point where they could replace me because that meant I could move on to the next thing. Mentoring with Sponsor-A-Scholar is great because Tay is easy to talk to and the program is so impressive. I’m glad to be able to give back in some way to help someone get ready for college because I’ve already been there and done that.

I’m so impressed with this program and all of the opportunities it offers the students. I first heard about it through my wife, who had heard a presentation at the Junior League of Albany. It sounded so awesome, and we just felt like we needed to get more involved. Sponsor-A-Scholar gives so much to kids who wouldn’t have the opportunities or attention otherwise because the schools are usually focusing on either the kids who are really high achievers or those who are doing really badly. But it’s the kids in the middle that need a push to get to where they know they can be. Sponsor-A-Scholar gives them that push.

Tay, what is the best part about Sponsor-A-Scholar? Andy! I’m never afraid to talk to him. I know he’s with me every step of the way and he’ll jump on board with whatever I’m doing.

I’ve been getting ready for a fitness assessment to get into the military academy, and I was doing great with every test except one--where I needed to throw a basketball while kneeling. So, Andy and I went to Albany High School and threw basketballs in the football field to practice. I’m sure we looked crazy to anyone who might have been watching. I’m lucky to have a mentor who is prepared for anything and is so open-minded.

We’re lucky to have both of you! Thank you!