Sophie Johnson: Empathy and Connection

By David Amirsadri

The logic machine only works if your definition of success and achievement don’t involve a letter grade.

It can overlap,

But don’t revolve your pride around an alphabet of five.   

Comprehension of a concept. 

Fluidity. 

Confidence. 

Life application.

There’s your A.

And it’s worth more too.

— Sophie Johnson

At a competitive institution like East Greenwich High School, the academic, athletic, and college admissions rat race drown out life’s most important elements. Love, empathy, and human connection must assume their rightful place at the core of every person’s experience– something especially true for the archetypal high school workaholic.

At least, that’s Sophie Johnson’s view. The graduating senior emphasized the importance of connection and genuine enthusiasm for learning– noting, regretfully, that this hadn’t always been her modus operandi

Sophie serving the ball in a EG Girls Volleyball game.

Entering high school with a determination like none other, Sophie didn’t immerse herself in the culture of EGHS so much as she doused herself in it. Varsity volleyball, drama, even her own sign language club– Sophie conquered it all.  By her own admission, she had assumed the role of the “high school workaholic,” realizing later that strategy– not intellectual brawn– was the key to success. Hard work, Sophie realized, was important– but so too was being human. So too was being grounded. “I kind of overestimated how much I could do in high school while staying sane and while prioritizing friends and family,” Sophie noted. “That hasn’t changed too much, but I’ve definitely reality-checked myself in terms of what’s doable for a single student.” 

For Sophie, this lesson was especially crucial. With a successful older brother, himself an EGHS alumnus, Sophie remained her own person– not her brother’s shadow. “[My brother] had some of the same teachers, and he took some of the same classes. That kind of felt like it was setting a high bar, especially if some teachers would say ‘Oh, I knew your brother!’” noted Sophie.

(Left to right) Laurel Koehler, Allison Smith, Sophie Johnson, Bryn Shunney, Beria Hos, Kavana Girish, Laura Bernard-Sasges, Leah Josloff dressed up for spirit week.

This independence was critical when descending into the bowels of junior year– arguably a student’s most challenging. Here, Sophie realized that high school’s chaotic third year could only be approached if she shed her adherence to arbitrary standards of excellence. “I would definitely tell my freshman self that it is way more important to stay after-school with a teacher and be honest with them about how you’re feeling, or if you’re stressed or struggling. And it’s way more important to put down the books for a little bit and go get ice cream with your friend and crack jokes sometimes. It’s very important to prioritize other human beings and interactions…The impact you make through human relations are going to be way more impactful than just studying and getting good grades.” 

Moreover, high school taught Sophie the necessity of sincerity in all endeavours. “You can’t force yourself to act a certain way if that doesn’t feel genuine. I think throughout high school, it’s been important to think to myself ‘OK, what do I actually want to do? What do I actually find myself enjoying?’ For me, that has been writing.” Sophie’s love of writing– a passion developed as a freshman– led her to an independent study of poetry and fiction as a senior. Writing offered Sophie an alternative to the manichean paradigms so prevalent in school. “I liked how there was no right answer,” she told me. “It wasn’t ‘Oh the answer is 42!’ It’s super freeing to be able to do what you want with any prompt.” 

Sophie (center) and her parents clad in Williams regalia.

Sophie will spend her next four years at Massachusetts’s venerable Williams College. A family tradition of sorts, Sophie will be joining both her parents in one day calling herself a Wiliams alumna. Sophie noted that the small liberal arts college was a “really nice fit for me. It’s in Massachusetts, and it’s kind of nestled in the mountains. There are beautiful views, and it’s a pretty secluded campus– there’s only 2,000 students. I like that, because I know that I’ll be able to cultivate some really amazing relationships, since it’s so campus-focused. It’s not like there’s going to be a lot to do in the city on the weekends, because there is no city– it’s just mountains. I know that people will stay on campus, and there’ll be a lot happening, since all we have is each other. Since it’s a small campus, I like thinking about being able to see people I know wherever I go.” Williams’s campus is fortunately situated near Sophie’s aunts, uncles, and cousins, affording opportunities for many family visits

The future, for Sophie, lies in the mind– mental health advocacy is a passion for the aspiring clinical psychologist. “Something that I think should change is the stigma towards mental health, and how it’s not seen as normal. That’s the thing about mental health is that every single person has it, because every single person has feelings and emotions. I definitely think that there should be a mandatory check up every single year on your mental health, because to me, it’s just as important as your physical health. I hope that in whatever I do and wherever that is, I can push people to see that we need to start prioritizing our mental health as much as our physical health. In turn, we would have a definite improvement in youth happiness, and a decrease in people turning towards self-destructive habits.” 

To that end, Sophie noted the importance of the work ethic she developed throughout her time at East Greenwich High School. “EGHS definitely does not hand anything to you… You really have to work for what you want to achieve, and the teachers don’t pretend that that’s not the case.” Independence and proactivity are the cornerstones of an East Greenwich education. “They’ll come in handy, in the real, post-high school world.”. 

(From left to right) Justin Amaral, Rachel Rowey, Hannah Casper, Sophie Johnson, Sydney Fay after winning the DII Volleyball State Championships.

Sophie’s drive and dedication to her work will surely serve her well in the future. We in East Greenwich wish her all the best! We can’t wait to see what you’ll do in the future, Sophie! 

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