Eliot Mignot Hodges11th Grade
“I have pursued a different kind of education, one I could never have had in a classroom. My school allows me to travel, to be free, and to see and learn new things: the types of things you learn when you’re not studying in a classroom.” Eliot Mignot Hodges, an 11th grade student at Laurel Springs School, has been able to follow a trio of passions (surfing, travel, and photography) in ways that would not be possible for a student in a traditional school environment.
Eliot, who has been a Laurel Springs student for about five years, travels the world with his family. In addition to living on a boat for several years, his family has traveled in France, the United States, Senegal, Brazil, and Mexico. Eliot speaks three languages fluently (English, Spanish, and French) and is learning Portuguese. Eliot’s travels have informed his talents and skills in photography, and have given him unique opportunities to progress in the sport of surfing.
When Eliot was in Africa, he was struck by how kind, open, and happy the people were. “They never treated me as a stranger, which is rare in a foreign country.” He left Senegal with a dream to give back to this community that had treated him so well, and returned to open an informal surfing school. Armed with donations of 17 surfboards and 23 wetsuits, Eliot quickly assembled about eighty children who wanted to learn how to surf. On a tiny island off the coast of Dakar, their surfing lessons were free, with just one string attached: all the children helped keep the beach litter-free. Since then, Eliot has also started a similar free surfing school in Brazil, while he was living in the favela of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro. The donated surfboards feature a heart-in-hand symbol, which signifies “Pacha Mama” (translated, it means Mother Earth). Eliot says that he not only teaches the students how to surf, “but also how to respect the beaches and oceans of the world, by changing small habits in their daily lives.”
It was in Senegal that Eliot began to discover his love of photography. He shares his experiences through chronicles of his journeys, documenting his trips and the people he meets. Photography is a passion for Eliot, and while his father (a professional photographer) is there to help and inspire him, Eliot says that “it’s an instinct” to pull out his camera when he sees “something pretty, or when the light is perfect.” And he particularly loves taking portraits, because, “you can capture someone’s entire story just by taking a picture of their face.”
Eliot’s next adventure includes spending time in Australia to focus on his goal of becoming a professional surfer. He says, “Surfing allows me to know and respect the ocean. It keeps me fit. It inspires me.” He also plans to take a photography course to further his skills behind the camera.
One of his favorite teachers at Laurel Springs, Dawn Belden, said that Eliot is “busy traveling, learning, taking great photos, inspiring, giving, creating, and doing great things to change the world.” Ms. Belden went on to say that “he creates greatness from who he is.” What a wonderful testimonial from a teacher for a student who is pursuing his passions in tandem with an excellent education.