On the Go

Sonia Su works for a better Cary

Sonia Su stays up late most nights, but she’s not necessarily Facebooking — she’s studying. And one look at her résumé explains the late hours.

Sonia is among Cary’s busiest teens, popping up in roles from childcare at The Carying Place to chairing the executive board of the Cary Teen Council, where she was named Outstanding Member of the Year while still in middle school.

She’s also a gold-level recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award, recognizing the thousands of hours she’s given in service to the Cary area, and takes part in the State Youth Council, which promotes leadership in community and government.

Now a rising senior and honor student at magnet Enloe High in Raleigh, where she’s active in a host of clubs, National Honor Society, Science Days for middle-schoolers and serves as lead marshal, Sonia doesn’t volunteer to claim kudos or college application entries.

Her favorite part of the work is meeting new people, and to her, giving back is simply a “way of life.”  

Sonia followed her big brother Sunny’s footsteps onto the Cary Teen Council, through which she serves at events including summer day camps, local dog washes, trail mulching campaigns and work with seniors.

“Volunteering is important, because you’re giving back to groups of people who have probably done a lot for you,” she said. “This community has shown me how to be less selfish.”

She also relates to some of the people she helps.

“Especially in tutoring kids; I really couldn’t have gotten to where I am without the teachers and friends who have helped me,” Sonia said. “I had a tough year of AP Chemistry!”

Working with others has built confidence in Sonia, whose scariest memory is the first time she showed up solo to volunteer.

“I was really shy, so it was good to break out of my shell,” she said. “Now I ask lots of questions. I’m really curious, and I love random facts; I’ve learned about trees, fracking and beach erosion that way!”

Sonia says she’s competitive, but only with herself.

“At actual competitions, I want everyone to do well, including myself, so I’m not always sure who I am rooting for more. It’s the same with schoolwork; I want the best grade I can get, but I also support others to get the best grade they can get.”

Teachers may say she’s studious but has been known to doze during long lectures, Sonia self-reports, while friends say she can be “pretty crazy sometimes.”

“I am friendly and creative, but not usually the one with the most feasible ideas. I sometimes go on whims, like planning an impromptu birthday party for one of my best friends. It’s a little craziness, but I hope that it’s my creativity too,” she said.

“My friends say I’m never sad and that it’s weird to see a frown on my face, no matter how hectic my week has been. I think that comes from volunteering; other peoples’ happiness rubs off on me, and my happiness is able to rub off on them!”

Her weekends include serving as a teacher assistant at the Raleigh Chinese Language School, where she mastered reading and writing the language often spoken by her parents at home.

She has served as president of the youth at the Triangle Area Chinese American Society, organizing youth volunteers for the group’s annual Chinese New Year Festival, and teaches and performs traditional Chinese Lion and Dragon Dance.

Oh, and Sonia’s earned the Raleigh Area Flutist Association Music Award and enjoys baking and sewing in her “spare” time.

She’s also considering her college and career goals: maybe N.C. State, maybe food science, or teaching.

This month, as Sonia takes on her latest leadership role with the Teen Council, she considers herself “lucky” to serve.

“Being on Cary Teen Council’s Executive Board has really helped me to become a better leader, more organized, and more creative,” she said. “We come up with new ideas for our annual teen forum, team building skills, and development of character traits such as leadership.”

She now aims to improve member communications and add engaging themes to the council’s monthly meetings.

“I hope to make the council more productive overall so it can be even better in the future,” Sonia said, “and to help the quiet ones break out of their shells, and leave behind someone good in charge.”

Sonia’s philosophy on giving could inspire those of us much farther along life’s journey.

“Whether it’s helping enrich young kids who will later be able to give back to their community, or cleaning up the community to keep it pretty and able to strive on, or teaching kids about culture that is different than what they’re used to, or just brightening the day of a stranger, I hope that whatever I’m helping people do is a good experience,” she said, “so that they’ll think, ‘She helped me, so I should help others.’

“By helping I can change others’ lives, so that they can do something amazing.”

Now that’s an idea worth a little lost slumber.

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