Natalie Thornton to the Class of 2013: Imitate into originality

June 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

The Ignatian Educator continues its commencement series with a lovely reflection from Natalie Thornton of Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA.

The value of imitation

By Natalie Thornton

June 19, 2013

In my freshman year of high school, I took my first art class: Photography I. We spent the first few weeks learning our way around a camera, and when we were as sure of ourselves as kids just learning how to swim, we were given our first assignment: “Locate a photograph you like and re-create it exactly as it appears.”

The next day, we processed our film and exposed a few prints in preparation for our first critique. I was proud of my work: I had used my new skills to take a solid photograph and it looked just like the original. But even at 14 I knew that I was not an artist. My work was a re-creation, not my unique expression.

Our teacher had us do this assignment several more times over the course of the year. With each re-creation, I began to notice a development. When I looked through the viewfinder, I could not help but see things differently than the original photographer had. These assignments ultimately revealed what I didn’t know I was looking for: my distinct creativity.

As young people, you are frequently told to be yourselves, to be original, but “you” and “original” are incredibly difficult to define. Here lies the hope: it is much easier to define what you are not.

At this point in your life, you have the tools to thrive, the motivation to create something incredible, and the secret ingredient: a wealth of people to copy from. Mimicking is how you learned to walk, to speak, to read. Why shouldn’t you use it to discover who you are meant to be? Writers read … and read … and read. Then, they sit down to write like those they have read, and after a while, the great ones simply cannot ignore their own voice. Amid the swirling words of other writers, they discover their own voice, because none of those they tried to mimic captured their essence.

All of us, over time, no matter our interests, are left with no other choice but to do things in our own way. Nothing else feels right.

So, as you enter into the company of gaits that are not your own, don’t be afraid to imitate. Over time, you’ll realize that you are right at home with the stride of your own two feet.

Natalie Thornton

Natalie Thornton


Natalie Thornton, a graduate of Boston College (2011), teaches art and coaches volleyball at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA. Having stuck with photography after that first assignment, she is now the founder and owner of Vera in August Creative Services. You can find her professional photography and art at

For additional entries in The Ignatian Educator commencement series, click here.


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