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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.”

She admits to some frustration with having to take extra steps to tackle her schoolwork, and often feels socially isolated from her peers. Quiet and unable to identify faces in a crowd, it’s tough to even recognize someone in the hallways for a quick hello.

Outside school, Bridant spends her time reading, playing video games and using her computer. She’s also seen countless plays; her father, Theo Bridant, 49, is the technical director of Sonoma State University’s College of Performing Arts and a freelance sound, lighting and set director.

Bridant doesn’t have a desire to dye her hair or wear makeup to mask her light skin. She wears broad, floppy hats to protect her scalp and face from sunburn and slips into lightweight jackets before she goes outdoors even on the hottest days. Sunglasses protect her from UV light and a visibility cane is mostly used to alert others of her visual impairment. She doesn’t complain about the rituals.

“I think she’s very comfortable in her own skin, with our family and in the world,” Bridant’s mother said. “She’s not going to change who she is to fit in. She’s not willing to compromise herself.”

The teen has gotten used to comments and questions from strangers curious about her white hair.

“I always hear, ‘I love your hair,’” she said. “It’s nice to get a compliment. People are more focused on the appearance (of albinism characteristics) and not on what it really is.”

She’s irked by media portrayals of those with albinism as possessing supernatural forces.

Bridant wants people to know “that I’m not magical or evil. I’m not some freak who can’t be in the sun. There are no mystical powers, and not everyone who has it is evil.”

If anything, her visual impairment has given her the ability to see things others readily do not.

When girls are smitten with an especially cute boy in class, Bridant notices more of his personality than his good looks. “I’ll say, ‘He’s a jerk.’ I see more character rather than just appearances.”

Having albinism makes assignments more time-consuming.

Bridant uses an iPad to photograph and enlarge lessons on classroom whiteboards so she can see them; scans all handouts to nearly double their size; has used specialty equipment like Braille transcribers, an ORCAM with an ear attachment to read out pages, and an Apple Pencil for iPad Pro notetaking; and must change files from JPGs to PDFs – just so she can do her schoolwork.

County and local school support has been responsive and helpful, providing case managers, aides and technical support, Mary Ann Bridant said. Still, she and her husband often have had to advocate for services and promote understanding among faculty and staff members unfamiliar with albinism.

The Bridant family, including siblings Ian, 14, and Charlotte, 12, focus on Theadora Bridant’s many talents and abilities, electing not to fuss over her condition.

Yet, Mary Ann Bridant said, “It’s been heartbreaking to see she couldn’t do things other kids can do normally.”

Her daughter’s French teacher, Devin Daly, said the teen more than holds her own in class.

He’s taught her since freshman year, watching her develop into a passionate student nearly fluent in French.

When the class reenacted “Antigone” on stage in French, Daly was brought to tears. “Thea had masterfully learned her lines and delivered them with such impact,” he said.

He hopes Bridant “will consider returning to Sonoma High as an inspirational speaker to my French classes someday.”

Studying French and participating in band and mock trial have been among the highlights of her four years at the high school.

Bridant also has participated in Girl Scouts since kindergarten, volunteered the past eight years at the annual Victorian Crafts Fair at the historic Vallejo home, and been a Link Crew transition program leader at school.

Attending prom with a group of friends the past two years was especially fun. In April, she was among those who went to the San Francisco Presidio in a Pepto-Bismol pink stretch Hummer, the ride as memorable as the prom.

“I feel like I’ve had a good time. Most of me will miss (high school), but part of me won’t,” she said. “I know that I can do anything that everyone else can do if I put in work and persevere, and that being different doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”

Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com.

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