“I’m not here to give people voices because I don’t have the ability to do so for anyone but myself. All I do is merely remind them that we are all human and that all stories are deserved of being heard.” – Natalie Robles
My daughter, Natalie, graduated from Duke University this past Sunday. I could not be prouder of her accomplishment. Not that it’s Duke or that she is graduating from college period. It’s that she has always taken the road less traveled; thrown herself into and embraced every experience. She has always followed her heart regardless of naysayers along the way. She has always been true to herself. She is my hero.
Natalie started school a year early. At the age of 4, she knew her alphabet and numbers and tested into kindergarten. In a time where parents are red-shirting (holding their kids back a year) so that they can excel at sports and academics, she was a maverick. She held her own and still placed into the accelerated classes throughout elementary school and into high school. As a sophomore in high school, she auditioned for an elite residential arts school (some 3 hours from home) and managed to be accepted into their prestigious music school. These are very brave steps for a 15 year old fledgling clarinetist but she did it. Her fearlessness, resilience, fortitude and aspirations made her my hero.
Natalie has a laundry list of attributes, but these are the one’s that stand out for me:
1. Resilience. Natalie bounces back even when things are tough. She had a terrible experience her Junior year of high school with a roommate. The roommate left school but Natalie returned the next year. She has had frost bite from backpacking in the snow and returned the following year for the same subzero experience. She had an unpaid internship in NYC, living hand to mouth for 8 weeks and went back the following summer for yet another unpaid internship in NYC. She may struggle and stumble but she will not fall.
2. Curiosity. In Natalie’s freshman year of college, she hiked for 2 weeks in the Pisgah National forest, performed in a dance recital (she had never taken dance), played with the symphony, tromped around at half time at the football games in the marching band, joined the water polo team (yeah…a newbie), and taught at local elementary schools in her..ahem…”free time”. Natalie inhaled every opportunity. Not all of them were her cup of tea, but she tried them all on for size.
3. Openness. Natalie’s passion is documentaries. It aligns with her ability to let folks find their voice. She doesn’t rush. She doesn’t push. She is present and listens. She distills and edits and blends and creates magic. She is open to all possibilities. And we get to enjoy the product of her openness.
4. Empathy. Her first experience with documentaries was in Medillin, Colombia. She was selected for a Summer program during her freshman year to travel to South America and document families displaced by drug violence. When she was instructed to interview some three to four families a day, she balked. She could feel the tension in folks as she tried to film. She knew they weren’t comfortable. She wanted to spend time with one family. She wanted to go back to the same family so that she could create trust. She did. She connects with folks and regardless of the cultural and language barriers, she honors them.
5. Decisiveness. Every family has disagreements. It might be what restaurant we are eating at or which movie to rent. The rest of us can get into a quagmire of indecisive infinite possibilities and unspoken agendas. Natalie takes the reigns and makes a decision. Done. Resolved. (Thanks)
6. Joy. As I write this, Natalie is having her wisdom teeth removed. I can hear her in the exam room laughing. She has an infectious laugh that I would recognize anywhere. She brings that joy and laughter to endless folks. No one is immune to her joy (especially her brother). They can crack each other up with just a look. She brings joy.
7. Bravery. Natalie went to a camp in the golden hinter lands of Northern California at the ripe old age of 8. It was emotional to leave your first born in what we later referred to as the “hippie” camp. When I returned to pick her up some three weeks later, she showed us the 20 foot high platform she had, while harnessed, jumped off of as she took a leap of faith to grab a trapeze. She has run a 10k obstacle course race, tried zero gravity and Bikram yoga, auditioned for countless music camps and organizations, and, her greatest feat, repelled up a mountain side after several years of conquering her fear. She faces her limiting beliefs.
I remember when Natalie left for Colombia some three years ago, she read a diary of a journey I had taken to South America some 30 years before. She said, “Mommy, I’m following in your footsteps”. In reality she has gone way beyond the steps I’ve taken. I can only hope to be as accomplished in my entire life as she has been in just 21 short years. My hero.