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The Winner: Lindsey C. Leach 

“Do not be mistaken, I’m no devil worshiper or teen witch,” she points out.

To hear Leach tell it, she was drawn to Style’s cover contest as if it were a tentless overnight camping trip, a kind of summer exercise often best indulged on a whim. “I just had this surge of ideas and made little notes to myself,” she says excitedly, flashing a dimpled smile. “Basically I wanted to see what I could do.”

What she does is remind us of what it means to be 17, buoyed by idealism above a wild and undulating wave of tomorrows. And she’s diving in. “I am only me,” she writes. “I’m an artist, poet, actress, nail-biter. I’m clumsy, too loud, I walk too fast and I twirl my hair. … I love to argue. Just ask, I have an opinion on everything. … I challenge authority and yet get away with it (and love every minute of it).”

Leach possesses a quality we’ve all felt before, and feel again from time to time. It’s that sensational season between adolescence and adulthood in which everything seems profound and, as is the case for Leach, a trip to England might as well be a trip to Katmandu.

Leach plans to return with her stepfather later this week from her first European vacation. Her older friends predict great things: “You’re going to go there and it’s going to change your life,” she says they told her. “It’ll be like home to you.” Her blue-green eyes widen in delight.

She’s certain it will be. “I love new cultures,” she says. “I think I want to study anthropology and world religion in college.” She’ll apply early decision to Christopher Newport College this year.

“I’m not a straight-A student; I’m not the smartest kid,” she concedes. She credits her school, Steward, and especially her art teacher/guidance counselor for cultivating an appreciation for different talents and encouraging them in her. “I know I’m not the typical teenager,” she says. Leach eschews popular sports and “cliques” for extracurricular activities like archery and theater. She wants to learn to fence. She reads five books at a time. The one she can’t put down now is “Sophie’s World” by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder. She writes poetry, sketches portraits, crafts jewelry and photographs strangers.

“I’m not the ‘popular girl,’ yet I have never been ignored,” she notes in her entry. It’s easy to see why. She appears self-confident and poised. She makes her own religious decisions. She began studying Wicca when she was 13, after reading about it in a book on the medicinal qualities of plants. Since then, she’s read volumes and considers herself an eclectic pagan rather than a Wiccan. “We don’t have a creed,” she explains. “It’s more about laws of karma. Do what you’re going to do but know that it will come back to you threefold. You have to take responsibility” for your actions, she says.

When asked how her friends might describe her, Leach demurs. People tell her she resembles the actress Julia Stiles, especially when it comes to her wit and sarcasm. They say she’s laid-back, open-minded and strong. Frequently she’s told she’s wise beyond her years. But mostly she says she just tries to be herself. “I have come to be very happy,” she says. “If you go out there and be happy then people are going to respect you for being different and not put you down.” — Brandon Walters

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