‘Quirky is an asset, not a liability’ for this freshman

If you want to stage a spectacular arts festival in the middle of downtown Dallas, a teenager might not be the first organizer you’d call. But you’d be overlooking a budding talent.

Meet Natalie Raphael – incoming USC freshman and public relations major.

At 17, Raphael organized “Arts in the Park,” a highly successful partnership between her high school and a major Dallas civic center, Klyde Warren Park. It wasn’t her first big event either: a year before, she produced a fundraising concert for the music therapy program at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, where she sits on the teen board.

Mover and shaker

Raphael has the kind of persuasive smile that opens doors. Her friends describe her as “present, infectious, driven, a natural leader,” but she prefers to call herself “quirky” and “a hippie,” a duality that belies her uncanny ability to weave through red tape and get things done.

Instead of attending a traditional high school, Raphael auditioned and was accepted into the highly competitive Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts, where she could pursue her passion for dance. During her junior year, the young dancer complained to her parents about how little student council did for the community. “My parents looked at me and said, ‘Why not you, Natalie?’”

She ran for student council president under the promise “to make student events not lame.

She won.

Natalie Raphael, right, hugs her new roommate on Move-in Day, Aug. 20, 2014. (Photo/David Sprague)
Natalie Raphael, right, hugs her new roommate on Move-in Day, Aug. 20, 2014. (Photo/David Sprague)Stirring the melting pot

Stirring the Melting Pot

Raphael tells the story of the arts festival in fragments, like a puzzle coming together — the mammoth undertaking of managing a gaggle of artists, musicians, craftsmen, chefs, dancers, teenage volunteers and mimes. “Yes, mimes are a thing at Booker T.,” she chuckles.

As the project began to snowball, it set off a social media blizzard. School administrators were ecstatic. More than 5,000 showed up. Her friends actually made money on their hobbies, and delighted festival-goers thanked her profusely. “Art can speak to people’s lives and transform them,” she notes.

Raphael is ready to hit the ground running in USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism’s public relations program. Her goal is to stir the melting pot at USC and inspire collective action and shared creative experiences.

But even when bringing people together, Natalie remembers to embrace individuality: “Quirky is an asset, not a liability.” She chose USC because “being in an environment where creativity and collaboration are encouraged, I will flourish.” So, when USC came on her radar, the question was: “Why not you, Natalie?”