Mentored Senator John McCain?
McCain was first elected to represent the state of Arizona
in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982. He was
elected to the Senate in 1985. In 1997, he was named
one of the "25 Most Influential People in America"
by Time magazine.
After graduating from the United States Naval Academy
in 1958, McCain began a 22-year career as a naval aviator.
In 1967, he was shot down over Vietnam and held as a
prisoner-of-war in Hanoi for five-and-a-half years (1967-1973),
much of it in solitary confinement. He retired from
the Navy as a Captain in 1981. McCain's naval honors
include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit,
Purple Heart, and Distinguished Flying Cross.
young John McCain
former high school teacher of mine, Mr. William
Ravenel, changed my life. I was the son of a naval
officer who led a transient life. When I was at
a boy's boarding
school of mostly southern well-off families, Mr. Ravenel
gave me some moorings and a compass. He was a man of such
admirable qualities. He had been a football player at
Duke, he'd been in World War II in General Patten's tank
corps, he still served in the Army Reserve, and he was
a coach of a junior varsity team that I was on. Believe
it or not, he made Shakespeare come alive. He used his
classroom as not only a way to teach English, but also
to teach values, and standards, and morals.
Mr. Ravenel was so admirable you wanted to be like him.
And it wasn't just me, but the other boys as well. He
seized the advantage to impart on us the honor code that
was part of the school there, and the teaching of the
various classics. He somehow imparted not just the telling
of them, but the meaning of them. That had a great impact.
I discussed all manner of subjects with him, from sports
to the stories of Somerset Maugham, from his combat experiences
to my future. He was one of the few people at school to
whom I confided that I was bound for the Academy and a
Navy career, and to whom I confided my reservations about
One instance in particular stands out in my memory as
a moment when Mr. Ravenel's support really boosted my
confidence. Training rules were a part of the honor code
that you signed and agreed to observe. In the fall of
my senior year, a member of the junior varsity football
team had broken training and faced expulsion from the
team. Mr. Ravenel called a team meeting during which players
argued that the accused be dropped from the team and referred
to the honor council. I didn't think that was fair. Since
the student in question had, unlike the rest of us, chosen
at the start of the year not to sign a pledge promising
to abide by the training rules faithfully, I argued in
favor of a less severe punishment.
Most of my teammates wanted to hang the guy. But I argued
that since he had not been caught breaking training but
instead had confessed the offense and expressed his remorse
freely, his behavior was no less honorable than that of
a student who signed the pledge and adhered to its provisions.
My defense swayed the people in the room, about twenty
or thirty guys. Mr. Ravenel closed the discussion by voicing
support for my judgment.
After the meeting broke up, Mr. Ravenel approached me
and shook my hand. With relief evident in his voice, he
told me we had done the right thing, and thanked me for
my efforts. He allowed that before the meeting he had
been anxious about its outcome. He had hoped the matter
would be resolved as it had been, but was uncertain it
would. Still, he had not wanted to be the one who argued
for exoneration; he wanted the decision to be ours and
not his. He said he was proud of me. That was very important
I have never forgotten the confidence his praise gave
me. Nor did I ever forget the man who praised me. Years
later, during the time I was imprisoned in Vietnam, I
thought about Mr. Ravenel a lot. He was the one who reinforced
in me the standards of honorable behavior. I was faced
with several decisions and one in particular, would I
accept an offer of the Vietnamese to go home early? I
thought about the fact that Mr. Ravenel had been in combat
in World War II and thus had a feel for what I was involved
in. And I really believed, as I thought about it and considered
it, that Mr. Ravenel wouldn't look favorably upon such
a decision, because it was not an honorable one. So, I
refused the offer...
After I returned home, Mr. Ravenel was the only person
outside of my family who I wanted to see, because his
approval or disapproval of me was probably more important
than anyone else in my life, outside of my father. I felt
he was someone to whom I could explain what happened to
me, and who would understand. That is a high tribute to
I regret that I was never able to pay him that tribute.
Upon return I found that my mentor had passed on. Mr.
Ravenel had died of a heart attack two years before my
release from prison. He lived for only 53 years. His early
death was a great loss to his family, friends, and students,
and to everyone who had been blessed with his company;
a loss I found difficult to accept.
Were William B. Ravenel the only person I remembered from
high school, I would credit those days as among the best
of my life. He was an inspirational man, and I wasn't
the only one that he inspired. His influence over my life,
while perhaps not apparent to most who have observed its
progress, was more important and more benevolent than
that of any other person save members of my family.
I think that a mentor can help you through difficult periods,
help you see the difference between right and wrong. The
world is more complicated for children today than it ever
was when I was growing up. A mentor can provide you with
the kind of idealism that you can look up to and attempt
to emulate. What I believe young people find very useful
is someone that they can contact and interact with, and
frankly express their doubts and their concerns and their
questions. We have found through scientific study that
a mentor can dramatically impact a young person's life.
I knew that Mr. Ravenel had a great impact on me. But
I don't think I really understood how deeply he impacted
me until I was in prison, because it was his example I
looked to when I was tempted to do something which was
less than honorable.
in part from Faith of My Fathers by
McCain with Mark Salter.