What separates a leader from a follower is perseverance and courage. Leaders do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal; to them, obstacles are things to be climbed over, and peers are partners that help them do the climbing. A leader not only looks out for the people who assist them, but especially for themselves. They seize opportunity in the wake of the impossible and are passionate about their craft. A leader is… a pilot for life.
On the commercial flight of life, Sophia Lewis was once a passenger. Her rivalry and admiration for her siblings shaped her childhood, and her family history was a map for her ambition. She echoed the actions of others, and often saw herself as someone less significant than those around her: someone who didn’t stand out among the crowd. But that changed, once she started living on her own at Appalachian State University. The freedom to choose without judgement or precedent put her on the path to self-actualization and selflessness: the path to being one of life’s pilots. And it’s been one of her favorite rides.
“This school has turned out to be the best decision for me. It’s really the environment and the people… it’s very very different from what it is back home.” Sophia sought contrast, and finding it would lead her decision to stay in Boone and ignite her affinity for App State. It would show her the path of double majoring in Studio Art and Graphic Design. It would open the gates of opportunity to become a Residential Assistant in Appalachian Panhellenic Hall, and to return to the position a year later in Frank Residence Hall. Sophia’s shift in identity all started here in Boone, but it wasn’t ever an easy transition.
“I didn’t even have a portfolio to submit to NC State or other schools that required it, because I had only taken one art class in high school. But I still knew that I really wanted to create art.” This certainty persisted even after was after she was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease: a devastating yet invisible disability that results in deterioration of the retinas, causing extreme central vision loss. Sophia is currently legally blind, even with specialty corrective lenses, but that has never stopped her from doing what she loves. “It used to scare me, because I was getting a major in this, and I didn’t know if my vision was going to get any worse. But I realized that I enjoy creating art enough to get around my disability. I’ve just learned how to do things a little differently than other people.”
Sophia’s flight through life won’t stop once she gets a degree either. She has seen the impact that art can have on children, students, and other disabled people, and wants to spearhead that impact. Alongside double majoring, Sophia is pursuing a minor in Psychology, and is looking to go to graduate school to enroll in an Art Therapy program. “I was doing a little bit of research behind it, and reading about what Art Therapy is, and where it is now, and I just remember feeling really inspired. There are definitely some therapeutic qualities when you are able to express yourself through art, and if I can be an outlet for someone, or of any help to someone, that would be really rewarding. I just want my job to be to inspire or motivate others, using art.”
It’s this mentality that not only puts Sophia in the cockpit of life, but also in the role of flight attendant and baggage handler, where she is using her life experiences and talent to guide both on-campus residents and other art students at App State in their trajectory to self-discovery. Whether it’s here in Boone, across the country, or wherever Sophia ends up later in life, her mission remains the same: to let people of all ages know of the power of expression through visual art and engaging in therapeutic practice, and that the combination of these two things is what keeps the plane flying.