Matthew Giesselmann heard a familiar name over a school intercom recently.

“I wonder if that’s the same kid,” he thought.

Giesselmann, a former Fremonter, teaches Spanish at Northeast High School in Lincoln.

But in 2012, Giesselmann was senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and part of the track and field team.

He was also part of the Husker Connect program, through which student-athletes mentored elementary and middle school students.

Back then, Giesselmann was matched with a third-grader named Joseph Young and they had a good year. Giesselmann then graduated from college, figuring he’d probably never see his mentee again.

But recently, the two were reunited at Northeast — where Joseph is now a junior. Giesselmann is pleased to see his mentee, who’s busy with school and is in the show choir.

Giesselmann remembers Young as a third-grader.

“He was full of energy and he was happy all the time,” Giesselmann said.

In a 2012 Tribune story, Giesselmann said he was worried — at first — that being a mentor would be difficult.

“I really didn’t know what to expect or how the student was going to react,” Giesselmann said, “but the experience was always good and we always had something productive or entertaining to do.”

Giesselmann noticed that Young was excited to be part of the program.

“I think I responded by trying to live up to his expectations of what the program would be like and showing up every time and having some fun activities,” Giesselmann said.

Giesselmann visited the elementary school once a week for an hour.

“We used to play UNO (a card game) sometimes,” Giesselmann remembered. “We’d go out and kick a soccer ball around. We did homework and worked on math together. A lot of times, we would just relax and talk and play soccer or throw the football around.”

Giesselmann — then an outdoor hammer thrower and indoor weight thrower for the Huskers — demonstrated what he did for track and field.

“I showed him how to do the hammer throw,” Giesselmann said. “I’d put a ball into my sweatpants or something and spin around and throw it in the gym to kind of show him the event that I did.”

At their last meeting, Giesselmann told Young that he’d probably get a football player for his mentor the next year — so he could be excited. He said Young simply replied that he didn’t care who he got, because Giesselmann was the best mentor that he had ever had.

Giesselmann graduated from college with a major in English. He taught English in Spain for two years, then came back and lived in Fremont for a year.

He moved back to Lincoln, where he’s now a third-year teacher.

With Lincoln being a larger city, Giesselmann didn’t think he’d run into his former mentee.

“If I did, I didn’t think I’d recognize him,” Giesselmann said.

But then Giesselmann heard that intercom announcement calling for Joseph Young to come and pick up a paper in the office.

A few days later, he recognized Joseph in the hallway.

“Hey, Joseph,” Giesselmann said.

Joseph turned around and looked at Giesselmann.

“He kind of did a double-take and then he said something like, ‘Were you my mentor?’” Giesselmann said.

Giesselmann reintroduced himself.

He’d learn that Joseph was part of the school’s show choir and has seen him perform.

“It’s great to see him involved in positive social activities like that,” Giesselmann said.

And after all these years, Young still recalled Giesselmann’s track and field demonstration.

“I remember when you showed me how to do the hammer throw,” Young said.

Giesselmann later saw Joseph with some other students and heard him mention their connection.

“He was my mentor way back when,” Joseph said.

Giesselmann was pleased.

“It made me feel great — having that connection,” Giesselmann said. “Getting involved with something like Husker Connect, you never know what’s going to happen from it.

“You’re helping somebody and trying to be a role model in some way and you never know if somebody’s going to come back and appreciate what you did for them.”

Giesselmann has had many role models in his own life, including his parents, Ron and Teresa, who live in Fremont. He also cites teachers, coaches, team captains, and colleagues at work.

Now a 31-year-old reserve coach for the high school’s tennis team, Giesselmann looks to the varsity and junior varsity coaches as mentors.

“I need other coaches to help me out and teach me things and to be my leaders so I can grow and become a good coach — at something I’ve never coached before,” he said.

In the meantime, Giesselmann appreciates the opportunity he had to be a role model for a former elementary school student.

“If you do certain things that are good, you don’t always realize the impact it has on people’s lives, but it’s been pretty cool this time to be able to see that impact,” Giesselmann said. “I’m not saying he grew up and became a good kid and joined show choir because of me being his mentor, but I know I was part of a program that was purposely trying to have a positive impact on his character.

“So seeing him get older and be involved in positive school activities and seeing his character — the person that he’s become up to this point in his life — it makes you feel like it is worth seeking out opportunities to have a positive impact on people.”


News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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