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Clyde Guilamo on the importance of mentorship for low-income students

Clyde Guilamo

Clyde Guilamo

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Updated: April 25, 2013 7:17PM

‘Pay it forward.”

Those words have stuck with me ever since I was 14 years old. I’m a first-generation American who grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Bronx. Back then, college was a dream. I knew I wanted to get there, but I didn’t know how.

That’s when Minds Matter, my mentor James Spencer and his great advice came into my life — and helped me discover my true potential.

Minds Matter is a 100 percent volunteer-run organization that works with students from low-income families, pairing them with young professional mentors with the goal of bringing college within reach. I was lucky enough to be paired with James. He was the first young professional I had ever met. He helped me lay a road map for getting to college. Step one: Prepare for the SAT. Step two: Build my resume. And so on.

As part of building my resume, Minds Matter gave me the unique opportunity to apply for and attend a summer program on a college campus, at no cost to me or my family. I chose UCLA. It was the first time I ever set foot on a college campus.

The experience not only helped to build my resume — it opened my eyes to opportunities beyond the Bronx, built my confidence and kick-started my journey to a bright future. A college campus was no longer a foreign or intimidating place, but one where I thrived.

With James by my side, I applied for selective colleges across the country and decided to attend Northwestern University here in the Chicago area. After walking around Navy Pier, cheering on the Puerto Rican Day parade and experiencing all that we love about Chicago summers, I knew I wanted to stay here. So I chose to continue my education at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.

After I graduated, I secured my dream job as a prosecutor working on child protection cases. And I thought about my mentor’s advice and how far I’d come. I asked myself what I could do in my new home city to pay it forward. It was an easy decision — with James and my UCLA experience in mind, I volunteered to be a mentor for the Chicago chapter of Minds Matter.

That’s where I met Mario, my mentee, from Team Englewood High School. Mario amazes me every day with his tenacity and desire to succeed. Minds Matter amazes me, too, with the power of its summer programs and the potential they unlock for students who remind me of myself a decade ago. Mario is set to enroll at University of Chicago’s summer law program, and come fall, who knows how high he’ll set his sights?

My Minds Matter experience and James’ guidance were a turning point in my life. I encourage everyone to look back in their lives for their own turning point — use it as your inspiration and pay it forward.

Or you can borrow my turning point, if you’d like. Minds Matter is more than a worthy organization. It’s a life-changing one, making the dream of college tangible for its lucky mentees.

Pay it forward. I hope these words stick with you like they stuck with me.

Clyde Guilamo will be honored April 27 at Minds Matter’s annual gala, “Spring for the Students.” For more information, visit

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