Alumni Spotlight: Tracy Thompson '83

Tracy Thompson ’83 was in the fourth grade when she knew what career she’d want to pursue as an adult. During a career day showcase at her elementary school, Thompson had the chance to hear Judge Anne Thompson (no relation) speak. At the time, Judge Thompson was the first woman and the first person of color to lead a prosecutor’s office in New Jersey. “I remember hearing her speak and every word she said made me say to myself, ‘Yes! That’s it!’ I knew then what I wanted to do,” she recalled. While Judge Anne Thompson’s visit to Thompson’s Trenton public school certainly made an enormous impression on her, Thompson’s earliest inspiration to help individuals came from her own experiences at home.

“I remember my mother was always helping people,” Thompson recalled, “and not only was she always looking for the people she could help, but she valued education.” Those values became tenets to Thompson. From the time she was a very young child, Thompson has always sought to remain a lifelong learner. “There is always something to learn,” she says, “and there is always someone to help!” Even before her encounter with Judge Anne Thompson in the fourth grade, Thompson knew that she wanted to combine her love of education and service. When recalling her earliest memories of interest in practicing law, she says: “My father had run-ins with the law, and I didn’t understand why some kids got to be with their fathers but I had to visit mine.” She remembers feeling as though the criminal justice system misunderstood her father, and that her father misunderstood the law, as well.

Thompson believed that if individuals and families could gain a better understanding of the law, they would be empowered to have more control. She knew that education was the most empowering resource one could have, and so she ensured that she would be committed to education. “My elementary and middle school teachers made me feel like I was special and that they were interested in my success,” she says. Those educators encouraged Thompson to apply to Princeton Day School.

“I was one of those students who was dropped into PDS during my sophomore year of high school,” she recalls. It was shortly after she started attending PDS that she experienced a great loss: the sudden death of her father. “I was 16 years old when he passed away, and his funeral was held on my birthday, which happens to be Christmas Eve.” The experience of starting at a new, competitive school and the trauma of losing her father were at the core of a challenging few years at PDS: “As one of only a handful of Black kids in my class, I felt like my teachers and my classmates seemed surprised by my success.” Thompson’s feelings about her value in the eyes of her educational community have been at the center of the extensive diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives PDS has pursued since last summer’s social reckoning on racism forced a thorough reassessment of how comprehensively the School champions and connects with everyone in the community. Thompson says that the steps PDS has taken to face these problems is of paramount importance. “There’s still a lot to do, but the fact that the work is being done at PDS makes me optimistic and hopeful.”

Even though Thompson faced obstacles during her time at PDS, she did find the high academic expectations to be a welcomed challenge: “I was used to getting straight A’s before I came to PDS,” she says. “The programming was definitely rigorous.” 

Thompson’s experience could have easily made her turn inward, but these circumstances encouraged Thompson to find even more ways she could be of service to those around her. “During my time at PDS, I was a candy-striper at the hospital. Whenever a patient needed a nonmedical request fulfilled, whether it was a blanket, a book, or just someone to talk to – I was one of the people who would help them.”

Thompson’s connection with service learning at PDS continued while she attended the University of Pennsylvania while also tutoring at Holmesburg Prison to inmates who were learning how to read. She could also be seen regularly handing out blankets to people experiencing homelessness throughout Philadelphia. She even volunteered as a babysitter for the Ronald McDonald House: “That sense of giving back and knowing my family is proud of me is what has inspired me to continue doing so.”

After she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Thompson went on to earn her law degree from Temple University. She would spend the next nine years in the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, where she would go on to become the head of the domestic violence unit. For the last 20 years, however, she has served at the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, where she is now the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor for the State of New Jersey. “I feel like I am able to combine my passions for practicing law and educating students and the community in my current position,” she says.

Thompson’s lifelong mission of providing service and education to her community simultaneously have fueled her re-engagement with the PDS community. “It’s time to get back and get reconnected. I want to contribute to the work that PDS is doing to create an inclusive and equitable environment where everyone is encouraged to bring their full selves to the community,” she notes.

Contributing to her communities through service and her endless pursuit of education have defined Thompson’s life. From her youngest years of watching her mother provide food to the children in her neighborhood to the years she spent cultivating an ardor for public service, Thompson has carried and fulfilled the promise she made to herself as a fourth grader. In her own words, she says, “life is a journey, but someone may need help along the way. And something can always be learned along the way, too.”

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