Mentors in my Bachelor's of Life


By Alex Shapanka

I’ve felt lost and overwhelmed countless times in college. Never because of academics. And rarely to the point of mental unraveling. You know those moments of frustration from the Orwellian Duke system, the backward social norms on campus, or just life in general. Pretty sticky stuff to navigate.

It gets exhausting constantly trudging through the muck. There were moments when I wanted to stop and just give up. Yet I’m still going, thanks in large part because of two individuals, Jordan Hale and Janicanne Shane. Both have had a profound impact on my Duke career and development as a person.

I met them early on in my freshman year. It was probably around late September 2009. Though my acquaintance with both came through my involvement in Duke University Union, they each impacted me in unique capacities.

Jordan served as the LDOC advisor when I was the committee’s CFO my sophomore year. We had our standard weekly meetings to keep on track, but our interactions were never limited to concert prep. Jordan always starts off conversations by asking others how everything is going. And I mean everything. If your dog died or boyfriend dumped you, Jordan will listen and empathize. He’s the kind of person you can confide in and will be there to help you through any storm.

A few months ago I was feeling burnt out, between two campus jobs, extracurriculars, searching for a career, and classes. I grabbed lunch with Jordan, who apparently could tell I was off. After talking for an hour about everything above and a quick car ride jamming out to 102.1, I felt rejuvenated. It was refreshing to spend time with someone who truly invested in me.

But I am not an anomaly. Jordan forms close personal ties with nearly everyone he meets. He’s a rare breed and a fierce friend. From my time with Jordan, I’ve learned to value the other person in a relationship more so than the reciprocity.

In many respects, my experiences with Janicanne mirror that with Jordan. She has challenged my conceptions of both social and professional interactions and taught me the full gravity of genuineness.

The first time I met JA, we were heading to dinner with Christian Lander, the author of Stuff White People Like. From the moment I saw her dyed magenta lock and fashion forward wardrobe, I knew she was unlike anyone I had ever met. Throughout the dinner some students made some presumptuous comments about contract negotiations to which JA responded with the perfect combination of criticism and class.

Over the next year, I had the privilege of having JA as my advisor for Speakers&Stage. Like Jordan, Janicanne did not believe that her job ended with planning events. She sought to cultivate me as a person, for which I am grateful.

I’ve always been one to speak my mind, even at the risk of ruffling a few feathers. I would rather have thoughts out in the open than to keep them internalized. JA respected my personality. Through our many conversations I have learned that it’s important to be who you are and present that person to the world – to be your authentic and genuine self. But she still pushed me to present myself with a bit more tact and deference.

Those of you who know me might think she failed. I assure you she did not. Sophomore year, Speakers&Stage cosponsored one of its events with another student organization that proved obstinate in its goals, making hard to work with its members. There were a few times I would have preferred to chew them out, yet JA had reminded me to approach the situation with respect and care. In the end, the event was a wild success.

It’s rare to find a mentor – someone to challenge you to be and do better, someone to pick you up when you’re stuck in the muck. Coming to Duke I wasn’t looking for anything more than an academic education. But through my involvement I found two of the greatest mentors and have earned quite a few credits toward my bachelor’s of life.