A Journey of Mentoring, Engagement, and Finding One’s Voice: Reflections from Allyson Horne

Allyson Horne

I laughed with my family and colleagues this week sharing that I was this year’s banquet keynote. The class of ‘93 over there is probably laughing too. I also told many of them I’d start this address tonight with a reminder: I’m lucky I finally made my way out of Mr. Evans’ office to speak to you this evening.

I did, in fact, spend quite a bit of time in the principal’s office – a place where I learned the phrase “verbal exuberance”. It’s also known as “talks too much” on report cards. (Perhaps some of you can relate)

It is an honor and privilege to be at this podium tonight, behind me a stage I spent quite a bit of time on. In looking back over the last 40 years and my gratitude in growing up here, I am reminded of the impact of mentoring. Something I happen to know a bit about.

Allyson Horne
Allyson Horne

I’ll share a few words with you this evening about two topics I’ve studied and practiced in my career: mentoring and engagement. And I’ll share a story with you about something I know very little: athletics.

Again, I’m Allyson Horne. An easy way to remember me is I’m the only Horne kid to graduate from this school NOT an athlete. I am in fact, a lifelong band nerd, a forever cheerleader, and still fairly good at speech competitions. I am, it turns out, verbally exuberant.

And it is within the walls of this school that I first learned how to aim that talent. Through the impact of many encouraging humans – particularly the teachers and staff – I have made a life out of those gifts and now encourage others to do the same. Through the work I do, we name that as “mentoring”. For tonight, I’ll let you call it whatever you want. My only hope is that you hear my words and reflect on those encouragers in your life.

I started my formal mentoring journey when I became part of TeamMates (an organization created by Coach Tom and Nancy Osborne) as a mentor, back in 1999 in Geneva. I went on to be a program coordinator – you have one here in Mrs. Kovanda who also supported me when I began – and then later a regional coordinator within the central office. I’ve worn a number of hats within TeamMates, and I’m honored to currently serve in a leadership role. My work is in the ripple effects, in the magic of mentoring.

Most of you will recall that in 1986, some magic happened around here. When we won the boys and girls state basketball tournament, I was a kiddo in the bleachers cheering on the team and my cousin Ben. I had a gentleman behind me ask if I was one of “those athletic Horne kids” and I remember thinking: ummmm, no.

There were a lot of years and tears spent trying to be one of those. Trying to fit into the label that was my last name. I wanted desperately to be good at 3 pointers, good at layups, good at running. Good at the sports.

As luck would have it – there were people along the way who noticed the other things I was doing. Book reports. Socializing. Music. Later speech, drama, cheer, band. And many times over the years, those encouraging voices said to me: you should try this – you might be good at it. And many times over the years they said, wow you are good at it. Do more of that.

It is a gift when you see and name the light in another. It is a gift when someone sees and names the light in you.

I had strengths spotters in my world long before I could name my own talent, let alone aim it in a meaningful direction. This week I’ve thought extra about Mrs. Lovegrove who made learning a way of life, Mrs. Hill for deepening my love of vinyl records, Mrs. Weber for encouraging me to give book reports and to write, Mr. Mahoney for helping a struggling math kid like me see it as “creative problem solving”. Mrs. Fette and Mrs. Tauriella for investing in my stage presence, Mr. Wilbeck for helping me feel heard, Mrs. Wellman for sharpening my instrument talent and introducing me to new ones.

My classmates and friends supporting me – I was not only winning “outstanding actress” in the one act play competitions, I was often putting on a face to get through tough times in real life. Outside of school, Karen Ruhl was right across the street reminding me piano lessons were much more than musical instruction, Jeannine Krejci gave her own talent to our community encouraging others to love dance and piano, and my bonus parents Mark and Meg, Bob and Pat, Butch and Barb, Jim and Linda, Gator and Faye.

You all made me better. You all introduced me to the concept of additional positive voices in a person’s life. You all helped me name my talent and encouraged me to live it. You all taught me about mentoring.

As a non-athlete, I have found irony and full circle magic in working for one of the most successful and respected football coaches in the nation. Getting to know Coach Osborne and his family over the last 20 years, I’ve learned his success as a leader has very little to do with sports – it’s in integrity. It’s in relationships. It’s in providing hope, trust, stability, and compassion for others, especially when you show up not because you have to, but because you want to. That is the definition of engagement.

My job title includes that word: engagement. When I describe it, I refer to my most academically successful year: 3rd grade. I refer to the natural talent spotting that happened in that classroom and in many of the rooms of this school where teachers and staff saw the best in me, even when I was showing up at my worst. Where people invested in my talent out of sheer hope for my future. That strength spotting led to a higher sense of engagement for me; I looked forward to school, to those moments, and as a result (Gallup research tells us) that gave me a higher sense of hope and wellbeing. A better chance at success.

Let me simplify that data: when you simply look for what is right about someone, when you name it and help them aim it, you increase their sense of hope. You help them be more successful. You improve their quality of life. 

A Journey of Mentoring, Engagement, and Finding One's Voice: Reflections from Allyson Horne
Allyson Horne

It’s a running joke between the team and me that I remain the least football aware on our staff. Those of you in the room might remember as head cheerleader I once started “first and ten, do it again” when we were on defense. I am surrounded by sports and still am the worst at it, the worst at knowing about it.

A few years ago, I was responsible for getting Trev Alberts to an event and had to google to know what he looked like. At one of our galas, it was my job to get a few pieces of autograph from Matt Davison and I had to ask his table, “which one of you is Matt?” Learning how to say Ndamukong Suh was one of my life’s greatest speech accomplishments, but I didn’t know much about him, and still don’t.

But because of continued mentors in my life, including Coach and Nancy and the TeamMates and Gallup organizations, I’ve been fortunate to share the messages of mentoring through my work across the nation and with many audiences like this. And tonight, I’m beyond honored to be sharing it with all of you.

My homework to you is to think about those people in your life who have shown up for you – not because they had to, but because they wanted to. If you can, please tell them. Don’t wait.

Thanks for having me tonight, and thank you Mr. Evans, for the many times you reminded me: Miss Allyson Horne, one day you’ll use that verbal exuberance for something good.

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