When Sonoma Valley High School recently held its awards assembly for graduating seniors, Theadora Bridant made her way to the podium more than once, or twice, or even three times.
The 18-year-old received eight honors — scholarships and awards acknowledging her hard work, perseverance and steadfast desire to keep up with her peers.
Born with albinism, a rare congenital disorder causing visual impairment and characterized by an absence of pigment in the skin and hair, Bridant acknowledges she stands out in a crowd.
With pale skin and wavy white hair tumbling past her shoulders, the slender 5-foot, 10-inch teen doesn’t easily blend in at school. Instead, she stands out – for her scholastic achievements and talents playing flute in the band and for acting as the star witness as part of the school’s award-winning mock trial team.
Not every classmate or teacher recognizes that Bridant has overcome numerous obstacles just to complete her schoolwork or participate in extracurricular activities. Legally blind, her vision is 20/250 and not correctable with glasses. Every class handout, textbook or teachers’ notes written on the whiteboard must be enlarged so she can read it.
Everything takes longer, but the efforts haven’t held her back. She’s graduating Friday with a 3.73 overall grade point average. She’ll wear a gold stole signifying her membership in the California Scholastic Federation, and in the fall will head to UC Davis as a French major.
“I can’t change my vision or my skin condition,” Bridant said. “What I can do is achieve in spite of this. It’s an obstacle that can be overcome.”
Socially, perhaps, the challenges have been greater for her. Few people are aware of albinism, which affects about one in every 20,000 births. Since kindergarten, she said, she’s been viewed as “different” by her peers.
“As a general rule, her grade level has been kind,” said her mother, Mary Ann Bridant, 49, an instructional assistant at Sassarini Elementary School, the campus her daughter attended. “Nobody goes out of their way to befriend her, but they’re kind.
“People like sameness, people like things like themselves. She’s very unique.”
Her daughter agrees. “I’m friendly with everybody, but I’m not invited to a lot of stuff. I’m more acquainted with everybody, but not best friends.”
In grade school, particularly, children sometimes misinterpreted the help Bridant was receiving from school staff as special attention. That, she said, created some issues of jealousy and resentment.
“I mostly got excluded from things because I was different,” she said. “That’s still what happens.”
Bridant accepts her albinism for what it is and, despite social and visual challenges, embraces the many positives in her life, from her loving and supportive family to classmates who do appreciate her uniqueness.
Her determination comes from her family, she said. “My whole family has given me lots of support. They haven’t had a chip on their shoulder.”
Albinism doesn’t reduce her potential or diminish her biting sense of humor.
“I can’t be in the sun longer than five minutes without protection and I can’t see farther than six feet away. That’s the only thing (albinism) means,” she said. “It’s nothing cognitive. It’s my eyes and my skin.”