Independent K-12 School in Atlanta

The Paideia School

Natalie Thompson Addresses the Class of 2014 at Their Senior Dinner

Graduating seniors from the class of 2014 were welcomed into the alumni community at a Senior Alumni Dinner at Mary Mac’s back in May. Three alumni were on hand to personally greet them and to share a few words of wisdom. Click here for Natalie Thompson’s ’94 speech.

Good evening and congratulations! My name is Natali Thompson. I graduated from Paideia in 1994. I am honored to stand before you today. I must admit I was a little surprised when I was invited to speak with you. I am terrified of public speaking and have spent a fair amount of time trying to avoid situations where I would have to speak to groups of more than 1. But I adore Paideia. Attending this school has been on of the greatest joys of my life. And I could never say no to Paul B. no matter what he asks me to do. He has been a great mentor, advisor and voice of reason for many years. I trust Paul implicitly and figured that if he thinks I have some kind of wisdom to impart it must be true, so here I am at Mary Macs to wish all of you the very best. I could tell you so many things, things I wish I’d known at your age and things I’m glad I didn’t know at your age, but I know my time is short and you don’t have all day, so I figured I would take the Glamour magazine approach to this speech and give you one “do” and one “don’t”. I will start with the “don’t” though, because I find it’s always better to end on a positive note.

You all are in a great position. You’re young and bright eyed and bushy tailed. You are graduating from an amazing school surrounded by people who love you. And now you will go out into the world and take one more step towards who you are meant to be. I am sure that is very exciting. I know many of you have been here forever and are ready to explore new ground and meet new people, but I also know it can be overwhelming and probably a little scary and I have to tell you that as life goes on there really is no shortage of overwhelming and scary things out there. This leads me to my first piece advice which is: Don’t worry or at least try not to. Mistakes are merely learning experiences. So always say yes. When you get a chance take it. There aren’t too many things you can do to make the world end. In fact, there is nothing that I can think of, so you really do a great deal of leeway on this journey. I have tried so many new things and have been made better because of all of them.

When I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to be an investment banker. So I went to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and planned to major in Finance. Soon after I arrived, I discovered I had a problem. I hated Finance. It may seem obvious now, but at the time I didn’t realize there was so much math involved. Unfortunately, I hate math or more accurately math hates me. And I quickly learned that my AP Calculus knowledge could only get me so far before I was going to have to learn more math things. The thought of that was unbearable, so I changed my concentration from Finance to Management and became a management consultant instead. I did that for about 6 years and it was interesting and fun, but I wanted a break from working and so I decided to go to law school. I loved law school, but after working at big law firms in New York and Atlanta, I determined that I didn’t exactly love being an actual lawyer at least not at a law firm. So I decided it was time for a change. Now I am working on a political campaign for Michelle Nunn, who is running for United States Senate. I came to this job with no experience in politics, but I have learned so much and I’m glad I decided to take this little detour. This job will be over after the election in November. I have no idea what I will do after that, but I’m not going to worry about it.

Life is constantly changing so there is no need to get too bogged down in the details. Be a tryer of new things, a chance taker. There is a line in the bible that says something like, “Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to this life?” Worrying is a losing proposition, so try to avoid it when at all possible. Go with the flow, don’t get tied up in the outcome of anything just find joy in doing the thing, trying the thing and let that be the reward regardless of the result. If you discover you don’t like it, no problem, there is always something else to try.

Now, I will give you my second piece of advice the “do”. The “do” is to look up. This do I actually got from Facebook. I hear that Facebook is old news to you young folks today and only old people still use it. Unfortunately, I think I count as old people at this point, so I guess so it’s ok that I’m still on it. Anyway, I was looking at it the other day and I saw this video that was pretty ironic, because the video I saw on Facebook was about how we should get off of Facebook and stop watching so many videos and Look Up.

I know there are so many catch phrases these days like lean in or lean out or twerk or whatever, but this video was about Looking Up. Look up from your computer screen, look up from your phone and look up at your life, look up at this day, look up at this second and embrace it. Be grateful for it.

When I graduated from Paideia. Paul gave us lots of great advice and I remember one piece of advice he gave us before we went off to college that he may have given you already or maybe he is going to give you soon, so sorry to steal your thunder Paul if that’s the case. It was interesting because he always gave us philosophical advice, one of my favorites being “Always leave with the one you brought to the dance”, but this time he gave us very practical, tactical advice. He said that when you go off to college or whatever you do next, get a camera and take pictures, lots of pictures. And I think that is such great advice. Advice that is kind of like Look Up, because he was saying here is where the adventure begins. You’re on your way and life goes by fast, so recognize the beauty in these moments. There are and will be so many things before you worth remembering. There is grace everywhere if you pay attention and there is always something to be thankful for. Look for the beauty out there in the world, recognize it, capture it. Give it the respect it deserves. You will want to remember these moments. So I would echo that advice.

And sure, take pictures of your friends or of yourself, but also check out sunsets, and flowers, and ladybugs or cool graffiti or interesting architecture. Look up at the world. Don’t move through life with your head down following your plan to the letter. Don’t get stuck in the day to day. Look up often and ask yourself if you’re happy. Have you checked in on your friends from home? Have you checked in on your family? Have you checked in on yourself? Look up and take the time to be grateful for all the beauty that surrounds you even in the darkest circumstances. There is always light to be found. Look up and make sure you’re not missing the good stuff. Look up from Instagram and your television and even your school books and look at the path you’re on. Are you headed in a direction you want to go? If not, go back to my first piece of advice. Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. Maybe it’s time to try something new.