My first heart-to-heart conversation with my longtime mentor took place along Chicago’s lakefront on an overcast spring morning. We talked for hours about what matters most to each of us, how we grew up and how we view the world. Since that long walk we took nearly 20 years ago, I have consulted him on every major career move I’ve made.

While putting together this month’s cover story on the M List, I thought about my mentor and the many other outstanding people who’ve influenced me in positive ways. This year’s who’s-who list of Madison-area innovators recognizes educators and professionals who are helping shape our future leaders.

Earlier this year, Jennifer Cheatham, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District, called 2016 the “year of the teacher.” That resonated with us at the magazine and cemented our decision to honor educators and mentors. They are critical to our success. They are the lifelines we count on along the unpredictable journey through life.

The M List package, which starts on page 54, breaks into four main categories: community outreach, continuing education, educators in the classroom and professional development. You’ll learn about each of the 32 M List awardees and who’s benefitting from their work and how they are making an impact.

I relied on a group of individuals who are plugged into the community to help compile a list of M List nominees and I am very grateful for their input. Each year, the category changes. Next year, we plan to develop an online nomination process that will be open to the public. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months.

The mentoring theme carries on in the feature about Greg Gard, starting on page 80. Writer Vince Sweeney tells the story of Gard’s rise to head coach of the Badgers men’s basketball team and the people and circumstances that influenced his choices on and off the court.

As you read this month’s issue, I hope it gives you an appreciation for the people who have guided you along your career path—just as it has done for me.

On that cloudy morning in Chicago in 1997, my mentor listened to me and connected. By the time our walk ended, the sun was shining—a fitting metaphor for a mentoring relationship.