The Mentoring program was set up to deepen students’ Juilliard experience by spending time with members of the community outside their area of study. Ideally, both parties would come away enriched. That certainly ended up being the case when, in 2010, violin alum and former staff member Cecelia Hobbs Gardner was paired with freshman pianist Christine Wu.
Fast-forward to this past May. Wu was graduating, though soon to return to Juilliard as a master’s student, and Gardner had left Juilliard, but their relationship remained very close. They asked if they could write about their four years together and the program that had created the “perfect match.”
Mentor Cecelia Hobbs Gardner
When Bärli Nugent, the director of the program, asked if I would be interested in becoming a mentor, I was enthusiastic—and a little nervous. But Bärli assured me that it would be a rewarding experience, and if you know Bärli, you trust her.
I was assigned to be a mentor to Christine Wu, a 17-year-old first-year. We met briefly following her performance in a piano studio class in Paul Hall and scheduled a meeting soon afterward in the cafeteria. There we discovered that we shared a similar sense of humor, very hearty laughs, and an extreme attachment to two TV shows, Friends and The Gilmore Girls.
Since then, Christine and I have enjoyed countless coffee meet-ups and meals; explored New York (beginning with a tour of iconic Christmas season places to see and things to do); attended plays, concerts, and ballets; met each other’s family and friends; and talked—a lot. We came to the mentoring relationship with many interests in common but have also opened each other up to new experiences. Last December, I invited Christine to a performance of Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos. I was surprised she didn’t know them well, but then realized that a young pianistwithout harpsichord experience wouldn’t necessarily. I listened to the concert with even more excitement knowing that later we would be discussing her impressions of music I’d played each year for most of my life.
For something different, I took Christine to hear the Mingus Big Band at the Jazz Standard, which combined things we love—first-rate musicians, great music, and good food. And she has inspired me to expand my reading to include more books with a philosophical focus, recently recommending The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which is now very close to the top of my must-read book list.
Christine is one of the brightest and funniest people I know, and when we’re together, there seems to be no end to the things that amuse and interest us. Still, each year I ask whether she wants to move on to a different mentor to broaden her experience at Juilliard, while secretly hoping that she’ll say no. So far, no changes! This fall I look forward to hearing about her summer studies and travel in Europe and her plans for the upcoming school year—probably all discussed while laughing through another lengthy dinner at our favorite restaurant.
Mentee Christine Wu
When I decided to take part in the Mentoring program freshman year, I wasn’t quite sure what it was. The program stressed its interdisciplinary aspect, so I imagined that this would be my window into the other departments at Juilliard. I figured maybe my mentor and I would get together for coffee now and again, but I didn’t know how far our relationship would go. What I didn’t expect was to have such a great person to look up to—someone to turn to for advice or laughs, someone to come with me to concerts and plays, to explore new areas of the city with me or just to frequent our favorite restaurants. I would never have thought that I could feel so comfortable being myself around someone who ultimately, in a sense, was assigned to me.
I remember Bärli Nugent joking that the Mentoring program at Juilliard was akin to an “online dating” experience, except between mentor and mentee. If so, my single experience has been the best one I could ask for. Even today I am still amazed by how well the program paired Cecelia and me based on an application and an interview. At a surface level, we don’t seem as if we would have too much in common, but a mutual love of Friends and Gilmore Girls proves otherwise. Many of my friends at Juilliard have noticed how often I mention her, or mention meeting her, and our positive relationship has inspired them to join the Mentoring program as well.
Cecelia has been my source of moral support for the past four years, both at a professional and a personal level. I can always expect her smiling face in the audience when I perform, and as a fellow musician, she is able to give me, depending on the situation, the confidence boost or the constructive criticism that I need. She has watched me grow and develop into who I am now, and it’s fun for both of us to note what has changed and what will always stay the same. My relationship with Cecelia is a lifelong one. I often joke that in the next year I will get a new mentor to replace her, but the beauty of the Mentoring program is that once the connection is made, the program itself stands more in the background. I enjoy the structured mentoring parties and activities but don’t need them to maintain this relationship. Cecelia will continue to be my mentor even when I leave New York.
About the Mentoring program
The Mentoring program serves about 150 pairs a year. Created in 2003, it is directed by Bärli Nugent (B.M. ’76, M.M. ’77, flute), an assistant dean and the director of chamber music. With faculty members René Houtrides (Drama) and Jerome Begin (Dance), Nugent pairs students with select faculty, staff, or alumni from outside their area of study. Students who want to participate submit an application, and the pairings are made based on interviews the team does with potential mentors and mentees. For more information, contact Bärli Nugent at email@example.com.