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Jun 21, 2023 MOST Staff

Alumni Spotlight: Britney Thornton Finds Success by Doing the MOST

M.O.S.T. alumna Britney Thornton serves as Shelby County Commissioner, District 10, the youngest female Commissioner in Memphis history. She is also the Founder and CEO of non-profit JUICE Orange Mound. A graduate of Baylor University and the University of Pennsylvania, Britney has called Memphis home for 33 years. This text was adapted from spoken remarks from the 2023 M.O.S.T. Senior Reception.

When I was in fifth grade, my mother made the decision to put me in a private school, and it changed my life. I left my friends, my neighborhood, and moved into a whole new thing, because she chose to do the MOST by sacrificing everything she had to put me into private school, with the support of a M.O.S.T. scholarship. It has produced so many benefits.

When M.O.S.T. reached out to me to speak tonight, I was sitting in Commission and I thought: ‘What am I going to say?’ Then it came to me: I'm excited to encourage young people to do the MOST. There are a number of times where doing the MOST has worked out for me, and I want to run back through the top three that came to mind.

The very first was when I got on a plane to Thailand to live for a year. Right before going on this particular commitment, I realized that the program I signed up for was not what I thought it was. My friend was going to Bangkok and I was going to Lamphun. There were many moments before leaving where I could have canceled the fight, aborted the mission. But I decided in that moment to do the MOST. And I'm glad I did because at the age of 22, and for a long time after, I thought that I had lived the best year of my life in Thailand. Doing the MOST worked out for me.

Going to Thailand literally opened up the world to me and ignited an interest in getting more stamps in my passport. I've now been to 21 countries and counting, and because of that experience, I have fully embraced the power of simply taking risks. Being willing to lean into the unknown has helped me create a life of adventure and I do wish that for you.

The second time that it worked out for me when I did the MOST was recently, when I went to a conference. Believe it or not, I get selective social anxiety. When I go into that mode, I just start to think about Pokémon, where you collect all the characters. I say to myself: ‘OK, Britney, go into this conference and meet three people. And when you meet those people, try to get a picture and try to get a number.’

I'm one of just a few Black people that were at this conference, so I felt very seen and very alone. A congressman got up to speak and said that he works in Foreign Affairs. One of my dreams is to become a diplomat, so I thought: ‘I'm going to meet this congressman, get his personal contact info.’ Very lofty, you know? Doing the MOST.

I met him in the lobby and now Congressman Green is one of my contacts. And not only that, but he wants to offer me an opportunity to shadow him sometime. Doing the MOST can work out in your favor. I've found that doors have opened just from pursuing my dreams. I encourage you to do the MOST and position yourself to accomplish your dreams.

The third example of doing the MOST is this whole thing about me being a Commissioner, right? In many ways, I find myself amazed that I'm just a young girl from Orange Mound that now is the youngest female commissioner in the history of Shelby County. But actually, in 2019, I lost a race running for City Council. If I had allowed that loss to be my story, I would not be standing before you with my title. In this particular example of doing the MOST, I learned to simply keep trying. You're going to fail so many times, but there's this miraculous phenomenon of failing forward.

I want to encourage everyone not to be afraid of failure, because I have found some of my greatest opportunities on the other side of failure. To our 18, graduates, I really, really encourage you to get comfortable with failure. I promise, you will find some of the greatest experiences on the other side.

In closing, I'm going to say an affirmation that was instilled in me long before I entered into private school, but has been something that has grounded me.

If it is to be, it is up to me

I can fly, I can fly, I can fly

I can be anything that I aspire to be

As long as I listen to people who care about me

If you are weak, you are beat

If you are wise, you will survive

I prepare myself for the doors of opportunity to open so that I can just walk right in.

I can

I will

I believe it is done.

I really hope that in your life, you walk through open doors and find opportunities. I hope you find so much happiness in your journey when you challenge yourself to do the MOST. And congratulations to all the graduates.

Published by MOST Staff June 21, 2023