Pearls of wisdom from Niki Sorto

Veteran science teacher grateful for emergence of female superheroes in film and in real life and proud of the independent spirit of her two sons


Photo courtesy of Sorto

While she said she most admired the female heroes who have emerged in real life and on the big screen, she identified as her heroes: two men: her sons, Daniel, 25, and Nicholas, 19.

Sorto says she is happy for emergence of strong female role models in real life and on the big screen. (Dave Winter)

The Proust Questionnaire, named after French writer Marcel Proust, is a series of 35 questions meant to gauge the personality and values of the answerer. Last month, The Shield interviewed science teacher Niki Sorto, asking her an abridged and edited version of the questions.

Which living person do you most admire?

You know, it’s gonna sound like I’m copying somebody or something, but the first person that comes to mind for me right now is Kamala Harris. I’ve always had this huge chip on my shoulder because I’m a girl. And the biggest insult you can give a guy is to call him a girl, right? And that hurts my feelings. It makes me so upset. And so I love to see like strong women. Now I have not just Wonder Woman, but we have Black Widow, and we have Captain Marvel and all these people to look up to. Now, it doesn’t have to just be that I love Superman. I don’t want a man to save me, you know what I mean? I want to save myself.

What is your current state of mind?

OK, so I’m a silver lining person so I always try to go there, but the real truth, if I am being really honest with you, I’m struggling a lot with the fact that we have to give the PSAT on Tuesday and have all these people up at school, when people are dying, and we’re so close to getting the vaccine. The honest truth is I’m watching all my friends struggle, and I’m super empathetic. And so that’s really hard, and then I’m dealing with my own worries. And they don’t care if we’re teachers, so we have to go, but we’re not first line and aren’t frontline workers. We don’t count when it comes to getting the vaccine, and so I’m just running right in.

When and where were you the happiest?

That’s hard for me because each time in my life, I’ve had very happy times. My mind goes immediately to when my mother and daddy and my grandma were alive. But, that means my Nicholas wouldn’t have been born. You know what I mean? I live in the moment. That’s the only way I can approach it.

Sorto said that she values people more than things, a fact she showed well with her Crazy Hat Day selection in September 2019. She had a lot of hats to choose from, but she chose one that her son Nicholas got when he was 5. Photo by Kate Boyle.

What is your most treasured possession?

Immediately, my mind goes to something that either my mother and daddy gave me or my gram. I would say I probably treasure people more than a thing. One of the things I really care about is a necklace that has pearls on it. They’re rather small pearls, but it started out as one single tiny pearl when I was a tiny little girl. And then, my mother and daddy added pearls as I got older. Now it almost goes all the way around from ear to ear and then it connects. I really like that because each pearl is very expensive and tiny, but very pretty and full of luster and color, really really nice. So yeah, I guess that’s it.

I don’t want a man to save me, you know what I mean? I want to save myself.

— teacher Niki Sorto

What do you most value in your friends?

So when I think of my friends, I think about unconditional love. I have four friends that are absolutely lovely. We’ve been together forever. We don’t have to talk every two minutes or anything, but there’s one that she’s so darling. We just send each other a little Snapchat “I love you,” or “How are you?” or a goofy little picture you know with the filter or something. So yeah, unconditional love.

Who are your heroes in real life?

You know, I’m sure a lot of people say this but for me it’s my two sons: Daniel, 25 almost 25 next week, and Nicholas, just turned 19. They’re amazing. They’re both really independent and confident, and my oldest son is a mechanical engineer, but he works as a bike mechanic, so that he can ride bikes and ride motorcycles and have fun. And everybody thinks, “Oh my God, he has this huge education, and he’s not making any money at it.” And he’s just like, “You know what? I’m young one time. I’m going to do this. I’m going to have fun and tough bees.”

A 1982 graduate of St. Francis High School, Sorto thrived on the high school volleyball team. (Courtesy of Nicole Sorto)

I really respect that because it’s been hard. My husband is a good person, but he’s been pushing for Daniel to get an engineering job and be busy all the time and making money. And that’s just not the path Daniel wants right now. And so he wears his hair long like it’s way longer than mine, way over his shoulder. And it’s mostly because he likes the contradiction. When people look at him and they assume things about him. Yeah, like, he wears long hair and he rides bikes. And so they assume that he’s probably not so bright. And then, when he speaks is quite eloquent and so they’re always surprised. They’re surprised when he’s a bike mechanic and he said, “Well, you know, I am a mechanical engineer.”

Nicolas is very different but very much the same in that respect, like, really strong and independent and is able to say no.

What do you most dislike?

I hate hurt, anger, distress. Those are the things that I hate. I’m super empathetic, and so it’s really hard for me when somebody is cruel. That’s the one. Yes, because that encompasses everything I don’t understand. When people plan something out that’s misguided and mean, I can’t recognize it in people very well. Malicious. Yeah, I don’t understand maliciousness. And so I always assume, even if somebody is being malicious that they didn’t really mean it that way.

I live in the moment. That’s the only way I can approach it.

— Niki Sorto

What is your greatest regret?

I’ve actually thought about what I would go back and do anything differently. The thing is, you know, if you change the past then you alter the future. And if I were to change the one thing that I would change, then I might not have met my husband, and I wouldn’t have my boys. And so, if I could change that one thing but not really alter where I am right now, I would say, I earned a scholarship to play volleyball. In college, my parents encouraged me not to accept that and go to a different place, and I wished that I would have. I love volleyball, and I was really athletic and really enjoyed sports and being a part of a team and stuff. And so I missed that, when I went to college, I played coed and stuff, but I missed the competitiveness and the camaraderie of a team. I’m a real team player type of person. So if that’s the only thing if I were to change something, I would change that.

What is your greatest extravagance?

My car. It’s the only thing that’s like actually just mine. I picked it, and I paid for it. I’m very independent and of course he married me so he should know that. Well, he felt like because we were going to have children I needed to drive a van or something. And I didn’t, so I bought a Mustang, and had the same Mustang for 20 years. And two years ago, I bought the exact same Mustang just 20 years younger. I love it so much. They were both blue, and the original one had racing stripes and I haven’t put the racing stripes on the new one yet. But yeah, I love cars, love love love cars.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

I’ve spent like so many years, you know, as a teacher, especially, you think about your kids all the time. And then I’m a mom so I think about my kids and my husband all the time, and I forget that I need to think about me. I thought I was a fixer. I always want to help everybody and fix everything and that’s absolutely exhausting.

Sorto proudly represented her alma mater on College Shirt Day in October 2019.