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Teen of the Week: Though voice hints at stardom, teen reaches instead for the stars

High SchoolsSchoolsClimbingPersonal ServiceVillanova UniversityU.S. Department of Agriculture

'I'm going to miss the people," said Sofia Bonner, a recent graduate of The Key School.

Since Sofia was a preschool tot, she's been a Key student - a veteran of 14 years at the bayside campus dotted with gazebos.

"I grew up there. It's been a second home for me. It is going to be hard not going there every day," the Annapolis resident said.

Sofia will be missed by Key School as well. Especially by the several teachers with young children who often hired her to babysit for them.

Others will miss her high spirits and soaring soprano voice.

She was a member of the Key School chorus and, dressed in Italian garb from the late 1500s, performed for four years at the Renaissance Festival with several classmates.

An ensemble player in three school musicals, her senior year Sofia had a lead role in "Godspell."

"It was a lot of fun," she said. "It summed up my senior year. A lot of friends did the show with me."

En route to the spotlight, the teen trained weekly with May Rybak, a voice teacher and professional singer.

"Sofia came to my voice studio as a young and timid freshman," Rybak said. "She left as an accomplished singer who wowed her audience whenever she sang. For my part, it was a great joy to watch her persistence in overcoming her fear of performing in public. This quality has played a big role in many other aspects of her life."

While Sofia's voice smoothly hit the high notes, her body went even higher.

The teen is a certified belayer and rock climber, meaning heights that give the ordinary person pause - or a severe case of acrophobia - don't faze Sofia.

"I can belay any top rope climbers," she said. "I can be trusted not to drop anyone."

She's comfortable scrambling up sheer cliff walls. The teen has climbed a 300-foot route on the formidable Seneca Rocks, a razorback ridge which soars 900 feet above Seneca Creek and a portion of the Potomac River in West Virginia. For an encore, she climbed the boulders at Coopers Rock State Forest, also in West Virginia.

On terra firma, wearing jersey No. 12 or 13, she played forward guard on Key School's girl's basketball JV and varsity teams.

Coach Kurt Karsten noted Sofia's commitment to do everything with 110 percent effort.

"When Sofia says she will do something, she will do it or die trying," Karsten said. "She has the spirit of a winner, and it will take her a long way in this world as she meets and overcomes obstacles with passion, charisma, style and sheer determination, all her life."

At least once a year, usually during the summer, the teen and her family visit her mother's hometown in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

"I'm proud of my Hispanic heritage," Sofia said.

In addition to her travels, during summer 2012, Sofia had an unusual two-month internship.

Her mentor was opthamologist Dr. Jack Iliff. In 2006, he was part of a six-person team that successfully swam a double crossing of the English Channel. To relax, Iliff races cars on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah.

"He's a member of the 200 Miles Per Hour Club," Sofia said.

She spent the summer building a single aspirated, turbocharged engine in Iliff's garage near Crab Creek, in preparation for a late summer race across the salt flats.

Working weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., she carefully sanded pistons and lubricated the rollers inside. Afterwards, she attached the crankshaft and put all the pieces into the engine block.

Iliff recalled, in addition to aiding him in cleaning, assembling and working on the engine, she learned the components of an internal combustion engine and its systems, including the formulas and mathematics involved. He realized she'd paid close attention to his instructions and lessons when she pointed out, to his chagrin, he'd installed a bearing in an incorrect location.

The campus of Villanova University near Philadelphia will be Sofia's new home this autumn; she plans to study mechanical engineering.

"I love math and science," Sofia said. "Eventually, I want to go into aerospace engineering, but, for now, I am going to build a wider foundation in order to have greater options."

The teen's father, Peter Bonner, is a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Her mother, Dr. Elba Pacheco, a physician of oculoplastic surgery, is the founder and owner of the Severna Park-based Center for Eye & Laser Surgery and Adoro Medical Spa. Her big sister, Cristina Bonner, a 2007 Key School graduate, earned her 2011 bachelor's degree in international studies and French at Washington University in St. Louis and is currently the events and development associate at Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure, a Washington, D.C.-based venture philanthropy.

Part of the fun Sofia will miss at Key School is the annual evening of senior pranks - done in a spirit of affection, not acrimony.

Some of the 54 senior class "pranksters" spent hours carefully painting a Class of 2014 mural at a pre-designated spot on a campus building wall. This year's mural was inspired by the Dr. Seuss book, "Oh, The Places You'll Go!"

The library was temporarily repurposed as a jungle replete with a miniature golf course.

Other pranks involved turning one teacher's room into a baby nursery. For a teacher who enjoys taking selfies, they tacked selfies all over the walls of his classroom. The science teacher got the best prank: The teens fried 100 pounds of chicken and staged a buffet feast in his classroom.

"We cleaned it all up afterwards," Sofia laughed.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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