St. Mary's Episcopal School

By Kate Bradley 12 November 2013, 8:37AM  

Last Monday I had the great privilege and honor of speaking to the girls of the upper school at St. Mary's. All 500 of them. It looked like this:



I had been working on my message for several weeks and somewhere in that time began to pray about what I should say (novel idea, I know). As I wrote and re-wrote my speech, I thought, God, what is it that you want these young women to know?


My client, Katherine, who invited me to speak, said the girls would love to hear about my background. So I talked a little about my life growing up in Memphis, my years at White Station, my love for art at an early age, and my dream to make it as a full-time artist. Originally my speech was about how to make a great living doing what you love. Then God nudged me to talk about the thing that made the most difference, above all the training, hard work, positive thoughts; It was Him. My hope was that if these girls got any message, it was that God uniquely made them, loves them, and has purposes for their lives.


I didn't rehearse my speech the morning of, I just prayed silently before I went on stage that God would speak through me the words I should say. And it went great. I can't take any credit. Here is my full speech:



Three years ago I was sitting in my living room in front of parents, trying to work up the nerve to tell them I wanted to leave my boring day job in finance to become a full time artist. My dream was to take a painting course in Florence, Italy, and the only way to do that was to quit my current job. Looking back, I have sympathy on them, because I’ve come to realize that this is one of parents’ worst fears. It comes right after “look at my new tattoo” and “meet my boyfriend, Mad Dog, he just got out on bail.”


I loved art since I was a little girl. My favorite artist was Norman Rockwell- I loved how well he drew people, and I loved the sweet family scenes he created. And I got in trouble a lot because I would paint on everything. My parents used to put me in the summer art classes at MCA, and I had great teachers at White Station would really pushed me to pursue art. I feel lucky that I had so many people in my life who encouraged me to pursue my talent. In college I discovered that there were people who made their living painting portraits and I thought, I love to paint people, I could do that. So for several years out of college, I worked a day job and painted when I got home. It was always my dream to eventually quit my job and paint full-time.


Well, my parents were understandably concerned, and I don’t blame. I mean, hello, “starving artist?” The reality is it’s very hard to make a living as an artist. I tried to put on a brave face for them, but the truth was, I was terrified to leave my job. I had visions of myself selling fruit on the interstate.


Pretty soon it was time to make a decision. Was I actually going to go through with this? I could think of a million reasons not to. The economy had just crashed and a lot of people were out of work, and here I was contemplating quitting a good job to be artist. It sounded crazy.


Well, I never found out if I had the nerve to quit my job.  Exactly one week before I was supposed to leave for Florence, I got called into the bosses’ office. “We think you’ve done a great job here, Kate, but were letting you go.” I broke down into tears. I wasn’t talking with God much at the time, but there was no mistaking his hand in this.


I left for Florence the next Friday, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Today I run a profitable business as a full-time portrait painter. I earn great money and I’m more fulfilled than I ever thought possible, all in an economic recession, when everyone said that no one was buying art. There have been some highs and lows, but I finally feel like I’m being me, and that is a great feeling.


I’m here today because I want to encourage you guys today not to give up on your dreams. I want to show you that anything is possible, especially if you start young. I’m going to share with you the three things that have made the biggest impact on my life. I want to encourage you to start doing them today, because if you know this suiff now, there’s no limit to what you can become.


The first thing I’m asking you to do is pretty obvious: decide what you want to be, do, and have in life. Ask yourself: What comes easiest and most naturally to me? What makes me happiest? These are the gifts God has given you to point you in the way you should go. Maybe you can organize like a beast, maybe you give great advice, maybe you make killer spotify playlists that everyone follows. Maybe you make scrapbooks like the world has never seen. Maybe you’re a science fiction geek, maybe you made your own Katniss costume for Halloween (which would be awesome btw) maybe you’re an artist like me. Or you love to plan parties.


The second thing I’ve learned is the secret to a happy, successful life is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or put another way, “you can have everything in life you want by helping others get what they want.” This philosophy has proved so true for me. When people see a portrait I’ve painted of their child, and it brings tears to their eyes, I know I’m contributing something meaningful to the world. When I need help from someone who is more busy and important from me, I try to give them something they want first, and I always get rewarded. Whatever it is you do, make sure it’s something that makes the world a better place.


And finally, the most important thing I’ve learned is that your attitude is the single biggest factor in your success. You don’t have control over what happens to you in life, but you can control how you react to it. I’ve had ups and downs in my business, my parents separated when I was in college, I always feel like I'm dealing with boy issues, and all of these things have caused me to doubt myself and God's plan for my life. I’m sure some of you have experienced this or worse. But I’m reminded Romans 8:28, which says God works out everything for the good of those who love him, and have been called according to his purpose.


I work to maintain a positive attitude every day. I start each morning with prayer. That’s the most important thing. Then I read or listen to inspiring people as I go about my day. This can be my favorite pastor or a businessperson I admire, it can be an inspiring speech, or a motivational book. Doing these things has made a tremendous difference in my life.


I’ve learned that you have to be very careful what you put into your mind. That’s why I watch little T.V. Most of what’s on T.V. today is vulgar, violent, and negative. Instead I read. Watching T.V. is spending time, reading is investing it.


And lastly, in order to maintain a positive attitude, I surround myself with people who love and encourage me. These are my friends who support me when no one else does. You see, this is so very important, because you will become like those you hang out with. If you have a friend who complains about everything, pretty soon you will start to see plenty of things to complain about. If your friends are smoking and drinking, you will smoke and drink. If they are working hard in school, you will work hard and school. It’s as simple as that.


So know your gifts and not be afraid to claim them, serve others in what you do, and work hard to maintain a positive, hopeful attitude.


I’ll finish by saying this: It is an honor to come and speak to you beautiful, smart young women. In case you don’t know, you already have a head start in life because you attend this school. You are exceptional. I don’t say that to make you feel proud or arrogant, but to make you aware that you are lucky to be in a place that encourages you to be your best self. Don’t waste it. You can leave here well educated, cultured, and classy. The world needs more young ladies like you. The recent VMA’s are proof of that.


There’s a quote by Howard Thurman that says “Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive."


Thank you.