My name is Sam Ligeti and I’m proud to say that yes, I am Jennifer Ligeti’s daughter. I’m about to start my sophomore year of college, but I was a little Seedling once, and credit Seedlings for fostering the creativity, love of learning, and sense of adventure I have now. Also it was a blast. Where else is it not only acceptable but encouraged to paint your face purple, bathe in spaghetti, or melt crayons into art? I was a kid with a wild imagination, and Seedlings let me realize whatever I dreamt up. I made some great friends at Seedlings, friends who I keep in touch with to this day. One such friend is Cleo Dan, who I remember at Seedlings as queen of the sandbox, always baking sand pies or digging sand houses, which I loved to help her with.

Cleo and Sam in the sandbox

I recently spoke with Cleo, and learning about all that she’s accomplished has made me even more proud to call her my friend.

Cleo Dan

Lumen scholar, world traveler, and Model United Nations Delegate

Cleo is a rising junior at Elon University, and was one of just 15 students to be named a Lumen Scholar, Elon’s highest award. The award is bestowed upon applicants who demonstrate “intellectual passion, commitment, and experience,” and who describe a detailed plan for their future years as an Elon student, including a major research project. Lumen Scholars receive a $15,000 grant to pursue their goals, including summer travel and service projects. I can’t think of a person who would be more excited for the chance to travel than Cleo. Cleo is half Swedish, and I remember going over to her house for play dates and seeing pictures and hearing stories of her trips to Sweden to visit her relatives. Cleo was brought up to be proud of her Swedish heritage, and I witnessed her interest in Sweden expand to an interest in other European countries, and eventually world cultures. Cleo is now fluent in Spanish, making her trilingual, and is majoring in international relations. Cleo not only studies other countries, but also visits them. By age 19 she had visited 22 countries!

Cleo has set a goal to one day work as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State in an embassy in Sweden. Cleo is already learning about the workings of government as a member of Elon’s Model United Nations team, which recently traveled to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for a security conference. The delegates were allowed to try shooting a machine gun, and Cleo, always up for adventure, fired away in her skirt and pearls! Cleo’s adventurous spirit also led her to begin training with Elon’s volunteer firefighter program. She does not plan to be a firefighter professionally, but is highly enjoying the experience.

When Cleo is not traveling, studying, or trying something daring, she is contributing to her sorority, Tri Delta. Cleo helped convince me to go Greek myself, because she told me it inspires her to give back to the community, has given her incredible friendships, and surrounds her with a support system of other strong and passionate women.

Cleo as a Seedling

When Cleo and I were growing up we bonded through our passion for creative projects. We created skits we later performed for our parents in Theatre Workshop and at home, wrote stories complete with illustrations and zany characters, and drew countless pictures. Our most ambitious drawing project was to make a paper doll family reunion, resulting in over 50 little paper people, from baby girls to old men, each with a distinct personality, story, and place on the family tree. I should add that the very first projects we undertook together, paving the way for many more, occurred at Seedlings.

Cleo and Sam, age 7

I asked Cleo to reflect upon her experience at Seedlings, and was touched by what she had to say.

“When I reminisce on my experience in Seedlings, I remember sitting on an over-turned flowerpot narrating a fictional story to an adult, who scribbled down every word that my imagination delivered. I recall finger-painting, believing I was a princess in the sandbox, and conjuring up various varieties of goopy gels when I fancied myself a great scientist. At Seedlings, having the license to freedom of play allowed me to engage my creativity in a plethora of outlets. Even when I was young, I felt like my contributions to the literary world were valuable because I was encouraged to pursue what interested me. Today, I have learned to appreciate and utilize my creative mind in not only the arts, but also in the scholarly world. My Honors undergraduate thesis research at Elon University explores ethnonationalist terrorism and employs my creative skill-set because I am comfortable with analyzing a problem from a unique perspective, or “thinking outside of the box” in terms of clichés. Growing up in the realm of Seedlings gave me the courage to dream big and express my imagination because I discovered what my innate talents were all on my own.”

Reading Cleo’s thoughts about Seedlings brought me right back to that time: to overturned flowerpots and goopy gels and dreaming big. She was able to articulate so much of what I am grateful to Seedlings for.

We are similar in that we are both creative, artistic people and recognize that the freedom of Seedlings, the freedom to pursue what we want, and do so in our own way, helped us discover this about ourselves. Today, we both enjoy writing and painting, and see that our creativity is useful not only with art but with daily life—brainstorming ideas for class assignments, understanding other people’s point of view, and becoming our own unique selves. Creativity has been called the highest form of intelligence, and I can’t think of a better place for young minds to explore their innate creativity than Seedlings.

Sam and Cleo, spring 2010, age 17

© Sam Ligeti and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2012