Exemplifies Value of Mentoring
27, 2000 -- Mentoring's life-saving potential is
obvious to Lavar Wagner as he remembers his friends who grew up
with him in Bedford-Stuyvesent. This poverty-stricken area of Brooklyn
is one of the most dangerous in New York City. None of his friends
completed or even attended college; many are dealing drugs, and
all still walk the neighborhood streets, at risk of being robbed
or killed daily.
who will graduate May 21 from the University of Virginia, has a
new life for himself and, thanks to a good job, with a hefty signing
bonus, plans on giving a new life to his mother, his sister and
her three-year-old daughter when he pays for their move soon out
of the small, overcrowded apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesent to a safer
son of a single mother, Wagner was able to visualize a world outside
the slums because a mentor from the investment firm Morgan Stanley
(now Morgan Stanley Dean Witter) encouraged him to consider college
and the business field. As part of the mentoring program, he spent
time in an office, where he saw the stimulating mix of computers
and business. "I discovered I had a natural passion for technology
and the business world," remembers the 21-year-old son of Ruby Wagner.
mentor assisted him in selecting college preparatory courses, studying
for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests and giving him the will to succeed.
After graduating as valedictorian from Chelsea High School in New
York City in 1996, Wagner entered U.Va. with a variety of scholarships
and financial aid packages.
major in management and management information systems in U.Va.'s
McIntire School of Commerce,
he entertained several job offers. He chose a position in information
technology consulting with PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City
-- a position that will easily pay more than his mother earns as
a telephone operator. Despite the fact that Wagner won't start his
new position until August, his mother has begun researching a new
home in a better section of Brooklyn or Queens.
he doesn't feel safe returning to his old neighborhood -- someone
recently pulled a gun on him in his mother's apartment building
-- Wagner has made a point of spending time at his high school to
describe the value of higher education to students. He has also
served as a mentor to minority students through U.Va.'s Peer Advisor
Program, which matches upperclass minority students to new minority
students. In addition to advising as many as six students a year
through that program, he has served as a mentor every Wednesday
at the Youth Alive Center, a service project of his fraternity,
Omega Psi Phi. He also serves on the resident staff of Gooch dormitory,
where he interacts with dozens of students daily.
feel it's important to give something back, both to the University
community and to my hometown. I hope I show students that you can
face obstacles and still persevere," he said. "Lavar has shown
me that anyone from anywhere can make it and succeed at anything
they put their mind to," said U.Va. student Joe Berhan, a psychology
major who regards Wagner as his role model. "I lived with Lavar
during our second and third years, and I do not know of anybody
who could lock themselves in their rooms and work all Friday and
Saturday nights like he did."
Wagner, who has served as president of two student organizations,
the fraternity chapter and the Black Commerce Student Network, one
course at U.Va. stands out as his favorite. "I think the 'Multiculturalism
Education' course taught by Bob Covert should be required for every
student. It takes aspects of every individual's life and brings
them out into the open. Such an experience fosters better communication
and trust. It promotes bonding. I want to carry that approach with
me into the corporate world."
who hopes to be the head of his own firm one day, says he has two
central goals after moving his family to a safer place. "I want
to feel comfortable financially and I don't want to feel like I
have to watch my back -- to hustle -- all the time. I want to be
Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857