What I Learned from Bill Clinton: How to Prepare Yourself for the Future

“If you can do one thing to prepare yourself for the future… you should spend as much time as you can with people who are different than you”. — President Bill Clinton

I recently had the opportunity to join Kyle Zimmer, First Book’s president and CEO, at a special event for the Thea Foundation. Founded by Linda and Paul Leopoulos shortly after the untimely death of their daughter Thea Kay, the Thea Foundation connects young people to the power of visual art, dance, drama, and creative writing across Arkansas and beyond.

At First Book we’re eager to learn from the success of the Thea Foundation and we hope to work with Linda, Paul and others to help bring the arts to life for all students, regardless of their economic situations, including the hundreds of thousands of children in First Book’s national network of low-income classrooms and programs.

Thea Kay Leopoulos

Thea Kay Leopoulos (photo from theafoundation.org)

We know that it can make a profound difference. Paul and Linda shared Thea’s story — a typical one for many 17-year-old girls, making C’s and D’s and disliking school.

But by the end of her junior year, Thea was making A’s and B’s in difficult subjects (an A in Trigonometry!) and loving school. As they came to terms with losing their daughter, Linda and Paul sought to understand what happened in Thea’s life that caused such a drastic academic transformation.

The answer: her new involvement in visual art, dance, drama and creative writing. This made all the difference for Thea; an idea strongly supported by research.

Chandler Arnold and Kyle Zimmer of First Book with Bill Clinton

Chandler Arnold, Bill Clinton & Kyle Zimmer celebrating the Thea Foundation

Among the educators, entrepreneurs, and arts supporters that night was President Bill Clinton, a longtime supporter of the powerful organization. Over dinner Kyle and I were able to speak with the President about a range of topics, from Thea (who the president knew well) to the Clinton Global Initiative.

The thing I’ll remember most? The President’s advice to an eight-year-old over dinner: “If you can do one thing to prepare yourself for the future… you should spend as much time as you can with people who are different than you”.

Wise advice for all of us; eight-year-olds and grown-ups alike.

Kyle also asked him if Hillary would be running for President in a few years, but we’ll keep his answer to ourselves.

NOTE: We are grateful for the generosity of Dr. Martha Bernadett of the Molina Foundation for making our participation in this event possible.

Chandler Arnold is First Book’s executive vice president.

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Posted in Inside First Book