We’ve all come across talented individuals in our life, perhaps even some that carry a gift so striking that it leaves us awe-struck. Those who have the readiness to shake us out of our stupor of normalcy and give us a peek into the possibility that is constantly buzzing around us. The ones we call prodigies.
Before Soleil Hawley even hit her teenage years, she was taking on more college courses than some graduate students. By 18, she was in a position people in their mid-20s can only dream of — and she finally revealed how she made it all happen.
Imagine walking into the first day of college and getting noticed for looking completely out of place. Well, that’s exactly what happened to Soliel Hawley when she was told she was “really short”.
Without even batting an eye, Soleil turned to her peer with smart quip and simply said, “that’s because I’m 11”. Her name, which is pronounced SOH-lay, is French for sun. And just like the sun, she was truly a rising star.
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When most kids are just trying to decide where their boy band allegiance lies, Soliel was determining which classes to take to kick off her college career. This may make you think she was some kind of genius… but that wasn’t exactly the case.
Growing up in the suburbs of Oklahoma, Soliel was always marked by her insatiable curiosity. She wanted to do everything, she wanted to know everything. And what’s more, she was determined that nothing was going to get in her way.
It was that unbridled wonder that lead her to start pulling her mom’s sleeve about joining a whole slew of extracurricular activities. Painting, drawing, violin, bass, singing, poetry and even Japanese language classes were on her list.
Overwhelmed by her daughter’s grandiose aspirations, her mom, Felicite Moorman, made what she thought was an innocent joke saying, “You should go to college if you’re going to spend that kind of money and time.”
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Well, her mom’s tease was no joke to Soliel, who, at the very mention of college, perked right up. But of course, how had she never considered college before! It’s essentially a fountain of education after all.
It was fortunate that right around that time Soliel’s family relocated to Philadelphia. Being in a bigger metropolitan area meant she now had a lot more access to opportunities that would satisfy her hunger for education.
Dipping her toe into college life with her first art class was all the experimenting Soleil needed before plunging right in. She started taking every art class she could at the local community college, especially focusing on visual art and Japanese.
By the time she was 14, she started to set her sights on Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. But as she was just getting started on the application process, her dreams of joining the painting department at Penn suddenly came to a screeching halt.
Admissions counselors informed the aspiring young artist that, at a minimum, she had to have a high school diploma. Soliel was crushed, but it didn’t take long for her to shake off that initial disappointment and concoct a plan to beat the system.
Soleil Hawley Facebook
At this time, Soliel was already being homeschooled, which meant that she had a bit more flexibility in her schedule. So, at 15, she enrolled in Penn Foster, an online accelerated program. Soliel made it clear, she had places to go and no time to waste.
Soleil Hawley Facebook
And being that time was so precious, she worked eight hours a day for 80 days straight to complete the program. This, of course, was in tandem with all her other activities, including playing bass for her band, The Amp Cats.
Not surprisingly all her hard work paid off. At 16, Soliel became the youngest person accepted into the Ivy League School’s BFA program in at least the last decade. And in typical Soliel fashion, getting her foot in the door was just the beginning.
Now at 18, she is preparing to graduate. Her professors who have worked closely with her over the last three years claim that she is years beyond her age. Some didn’t even realize she was younger than the average student!
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“I always felt pretty ready for it,” Soliel says about her fast track path. “There is so much more to accomplish once you realize there is so much more to education than the frameworks we have in place.”
Her eyes were also opened up to more than just ivy league rigor as she attended school with people who didn’t grow up having the kind of privilege she did. It made her realize, as hard as she was working, many people in her position still had to work 10 times harder.
Soliel paid her way through school through scholarships, help from her parent and about $25,000 in student loans. Attending universities in America is still an extreme financial burden, something that didn’t evade this bright young star.
Knowing the cost of an education, especially the kind of education she wants, Soliel has made plans to apply for the Rhodes scholarship after she graduates. If she is awarded the scholarship it will grant her the ability to study at Oxford University in England for free.
No matter what is on the horizon for Soleil, one thing seems pretty clear: it doesn’t look like the sun is setting on this young girls’ bright future anytime soon. Her only concern now might be that she has a bit of competition with the whole prodigy thing…
Marla Olmstead may have seemed like an average child to those who didn’t know her well, but she was truly extraordinary. When she was three, her parents, Mark and Laura, discovered her love of painting.
She took them both by surprise when she reportedly asked her father, an amateur painter himself, if she could use his brushes and canvas one day. He happily agreed, but in no way was he or his wife ready for the journey she was about to take.
After Marla finished a few high-quality paintings, a family friend hung them inside a local coffee shop in Binghamton, New York. Unbelievably, a couple inquired about the price of one. Would you believe the Olmsteads actually managed to rake in $250 for it?
Proud as could be, Laura immediately made a photocopy of the check, excited to one day show Marla when she was older. Her daughter, she knew, would be in shock she actually sold artwork at such a young age!
Thinking it was a complete fluke, Marla’s parents didn’t dwell on the sale. However, word soon got out their daughter had a natural talent, and the flood gates of the press suddenly burst open.
Anthony Brunelli, an accomplished photorealist painter, offered to promote Marla’s work. He put together a huge art gallery in Binghamton, and people from all over the city came to gawk at the young girl’s incredible talent.
After the gallery opened, a reporter from the city newspaper ran a piece on Marla, and even The New York Times jumped aboard the story. Everyone wanted to know more about the young prodigy taking the art world by storm.
Not only was Marla getting insane amounts of press, but she was also auctioning off her artwork for exorbitant amounts of money. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars here. Not bad for a kid who wasn’t even in school yet.
All the money she earned was directly deposited into a college fund her parents set up. At one point, she had over 200 people on a waiting list clamoring to buy her masterpieces.
News outlets from all over the world traveled to Binghamton to catch a glimpse of the artistic genius. No one understood how someone with such little painting experience could express herself like a world-class professional.
Art enthusiasts likened Marla’s style to Jackson Pollock, the famous abstract painter who used a unique technique of splashing and flinging paint onto his canvas. The painting on the left here is Marla’s. It looks quite a bit like Pollock’s, huh?
Amidst the whirlwind of attention Marla received, a psychologist named Ellen Winner took a special interest. She spent years studying gifted children, and she wanted to dig deeper into the story behind Marla. But, once she did, things started getting murky.
See, Laura and Mark were adamant Marla had completed all of the paintings without any help. However, no one ever actually saw her complete a project from beginning to end. This raised questions for the psychologist.
The Olmsteads eventually agreed to allow a small hidden camera in the space where Marla painted. People hoped it would put an end to the whisperings that her work may have been doctored by someone older and far more experienced, like her father.
When Winner watched the footage, she was completely unconvinced Marla was a prodigy. Marla, to her, was painting like any normal child: no real focus, ordinary streaks, and no overall plan. It was nothing like the finished pieces her parents were selling.
The parents, however, claimed that the hidden camera was at fault: because they knew they were being filmed, their interactions with Marla as she painted were strained, which threw off their prodigious kid.
Nevertheless, Marla was later featured in a full-length documentary called My Kid Could Paint That, which focused on whether or not her talents were real, or if her parents were pulling an elaborate trick on everyone.
In the end, however, no one was able to provide substantial evidence that Marla was using someone else to complete her art. The Olmstead family made quite a killing off the work, and the money was theirs to keep!
Today, she doesn’t put nearly as much time into painting. The notoriety that swept over her as a child almost completely vanished, and she prefers to live a regular teenage life, focusing on friends and academics.
The Olmsteads learned a lot during the firestorm of attention Marla received. Fortunately, she’s an incredibly balanced person, and that’s all Laura and Mark ever wanted for their daughter.