Winter Soirée

The original paintings and sculptures exhibited at Martin Lawrence Galleries served as the perfect backdrop for the upscale evening. Minds Matter of San Francisco held its Winter Soirée on December 5, 2012 at the downtown art space. Surrounded by exclusive art pieces, established professionals gathered after work to hear about the mission of the non-profit, and to listen to co-founder/CFO at Box, Dylan Smith, share his thoughts on the value of education.

Guests conversed with each other while enjoying the open bar and elegantly catered hors d’oeuvres before President Joe Du Bey launched into the purpose of the evening. Thanking everybody for his/her attendance at the event, Du Bey said, “We are here tonight to celebrate our sponsors, the people in the organizations who make it possible for us to transform the lives of our kids.” Each sponsor was met with warm applause before Du Bey continued. “We are also here to share stories of our impact and humbly ask for continued support as we strive to expand the life opportunities for some of the city's most outstanding young people.” The poignant, black-and-white photos of mentees interspersed among the crowd offered their silent appreciation.

Dylan Smith delivered a sincere speech about the significance of his education and the doors it opened for his pursuit of entrepreneurship. “I’m sure you guys know a lot of stories about people who have overcome adversity and who have gotten out there to get an education, and all the amazing things people have done to make that happen.” Smith paused. “I don’t have one of those stories.”

Having been fortunate enough to grow up in a wealthy household and community, Smith took many of his early educational opportunities for granted. But after being inspired by teachers in high school, Smith wanted to give back. “I’ve always loved entrepreneurship,” Smith stated. “My very first business was actually a tutoring company helping kids get up to speed in math and science.” During his time at Duke University, Smith and his freshmen hall mates committed to volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club, mentoring once or twice a week, even while starting his Internet cloud storage company, Box. “It’s interesting to see when the demands of finals and Box (once we started that), social life and all these other things grew more and more pressing…We’d let a lot of things drop,” Smith said. “We’d sleep less, but one thing we’d always keep up was going to the Boys & Girls club. That was really a staple of our friendship and of our lives.”

Now at Box, Smith still promotes a culture around continued learning. Box co-founder/CEO Aaron Levie established a library for employees and visitors. When an interesting read is suggested, Smith orders multiple copies for the Levie library. “As the CFO, I’m in charge of all the finances and all the budgets,” Smith said. “And the one line item I yell at our executives for ­– when they don’t spend– is the education and training budget because we want to make sure we are investing in our employees.” Smith concluded his talk by thanking Minds Matter for their mission, and pledged to be a long-time advocate.

Senior Mentee Vanessa Chi delighted the crowd next. Her mentor of three years, Taylor Bollman, introduced the energetic high schooler, and briefly covered their time spent on SAT prep, scholastic planning and the college application process. With unmistakable charisma, Chi opened up about her Minds Matter experience.

The once-shy girl talked about how she was initially hesitant to leave home for summer programs, but after her exposure to new friends and new life experiences, she discovered a passion for Public Health, which she plans to pursue in college. Chi’s candor about her relationship with her mentors ignited bouts of laughter as she described Bollman’s strict expectations surrounding deadlines to his unquestionable dedication to helping her studies. “My relationships with my mentors are amazing,” Chi exclaimed, her tone ripe with appreciation. “You don’t understand, like, how we understand each other.” Glancing at Bollman for a quick look of reassurance, Chi turned back to the audience for her final thoughts. “I’m really glad I signed up for Minds Matter because it’s helped me through so much. And in the future, after college, I hope I can become a mentor also and give somebody else the help my mentors have given me.”