Here Comes the Sun

Indian Queen teen shines bright in recent Inquirer feature for achievements at PAFA & UPenn 

That was some headline: “At 11, She Started College. Now at 18, She’s on the Verge of a Penn Degree.”

And there was Soleil Hawley (who’s name literally means “sun”) in the Philadelphia Inquirer with a smirk on her face that reminded us of her mom, Felicite Moorman, of thriving East Falls tech enterprises, and the grand Hohenadel Mansion, historic home of the neighborhood’s most famous beer baron.

In addition to Felicite and Soleil, their high-achieving tribe includes husband/father Sean Hawley, middle son Finn and youngest daughter Lilia who frankly are all quite superlative. But this summer Soleil was in the spotlight when an Inquirer reporter caught wind that the 18-year-old was poised to graduate Penn this December as the youngest Bachelors of Fine Arts candidate the University has had in at least a decade.

She took her first college course as a sixth grader, a beginner’s drawing course at the University of Oklahoma. When the family moved up here, she started taking classes at the Community College of Philadelphia (at 12 she was one of the youngest students to ever enroll). She took an accelerated online program to graduate high school in 80 days, then metriculated in a joint program with PAFA and UPenn.

Soleil chats with guests at PAFA’s student art exhibit

This May, she was the youngest featured artist at PAFA’s student art exhibit. Her moody, surreal compositions often combine unexpected elements to create a sense of unease, or some dissonance. There’s the East Falls Train Station, with her own self-portrait tilted and out of scale. The church passage from Midvale to Indian Queen. Streetscapes with undulating rowhomes.

Next, Soleil has her eye on a Rhodes Scholarship and is considering law school – she told the Inquirer she’d be interested in specializing in colonial looting and the repatriation of stolen art. Whatever she chooses to do, looks like the whole city will be watching. With shades on.

Who’s that Girl?

We recently sent Soleil a list of 15 questions, and asked her to pick & choose whichever ones she wanted to answer for the paper.

Q: How does it feel to be so recognized for your achievements?

A: Nerve-racking and exciting at the same time. It’s amazing to watch opportunities pop up as a result of the paper and I have to thank Susan Snyder for sharing my story!

Graduating high school at 14 in 2015

Q: Did you expect all this attention?

A: I’m not sure what I expected. My story doesn’t fit into a traditional ‘child prodigy’ genre so I wasn’t sure how that would influence the response, but the professional connections, artists, and Philadelphians who’ve reached out to me have been phenomenally kind and supportive so far.

Q: Did you enjoy being interviewed?

A: So far, everyone who’s interviewed me has given me a positive experience and a chance to talk about what motivates me. I enjoy talking to people in general and hearing feedback on my opinions and lifestyle, so yes!

Q: Have you been surprised by any feedback? 

A: Looking at comments without knowing what to expect has been interesting. I’m not really used to revealing so much of my personal information and my entire life story, so having unkind responses to such a vulnerable article is strange. I’ve been trying to avoid negative feedback because generally speaking, it isn’t constructive or conducive to what I’m working towards.

Q:  I dress like this because:

A: A lot of my outfits are clothes I need to be able to wear in multiple environments because of the way I organize my days, which can be really difficult because I sometimes have class in the morning, an appointment, volunteer painting in the afternoon, and dinner out with friends in one day!

Q: The farthest I have ever been from Philadelphia is:

A: London!

Then & Now at historic Hohenadel Mansion (Indian Queen Lane)

Q: My favorite place in East Falls is:

Probably my home. As I’ve gotten older, the historical value of the house becomes more concrete to me. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking through it for the first time when I realize how old the stained glass is, or the wooden sculptures on our mantel, or the wall paintings in the basement. I think living in this house has, in a way, foregrounded my attachment to art and architecture with historical presences.

Q: If I ran for public office my platform would be:

A: I’m a proponent of climate change awareness, public healthcare, and equal opportunity.

Another issue that’s pertinent to my situation and something I’d like to see change is the inaccessibility of higher education. Being able to go to college throughout my formative years has been an amazing opportunity that required hard work, but that can’t be recognized without understanding the resources made available to me.

There are many young people who go into debt for college or are driven and hardworking but can’t attend college at all, and I believe that higher education reform is necessary to amend these issues.

Follow Soleil on Instagram @hawsol 

Lafayette Street, East Falls (Philadelphia PA) by Soleil Hawley (2019)
Dancer with flippers (Hohenadel Mansion, East Falls Philadelphia) by Soleil Hawley (2019)
Self portrait of the artist at East Falls train station (Phila PA) by Soleil Hawley (2019)

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