Standing in the designated free-speech zone under mossy trees, a cheerful young man holds a sign that says “Free Hugs.” Behind the sign is a student who just wants to brighten someone’s day.
James Soper, a junior studying sociology, likes to think of himself as an ordinary student. Like many others he changed majors, after a brief stint in engineering. Unlike most others, he is battling a rare stage-three germ cell cancer.
A large mass was discovered in his lungs in May 2014. Both his lungs and heart filled with fluid, resulting in immediate heart surgery. Next, a tumor was discovered on his brain.
Soper’s mindset is to “help and give back to the community, and spread positivity and goodwill to the people around you.” He carries that into his position as president of registered student organization Campus Peace Action.
He describes CPA as, “a grassroots progressive organization that aspires to promote peace through positivity and an education within our community.”
He was elected president of CPA in April 2014. He was originally afraid he wouldn’t be able to be president, but after some serious thought, he decided to be president as long as his body would allow him.
Each semester, CPA puts on a peace parade on campus. Its intent is to spread happiness through positive messages and hugs. Soper is a big part of the organization of that parade. As students and faculty walk by, they are greeted by the friendly group. Students in need of a hug, high five or just a smile can find it there.
“A hug is a really good way to relieve stress. Even if they don’t hug us, sometimes we elicit a smile,” Soper said.
Nicole Medina, former president of CPA, describes Soper as a genuine, caring person. He uses those traits to captivate the attention of an audience.
“People view him as strong or brave because of his positive outlook, but that is who he is. People see that now, but he hasn’t changed. He’s not a cancer patient; he’s James, just with cancer,” Medina said.
CPA member Karen Cornett said she has learned a lot from Soper. He has especially helped her realize she can learn from everyone around her, she said.
Soper’s positivity leads those around him to want to give back — even to him. To help with his medical expenses, a GoFundMe page was created. In just four months, 53 people donated $2,550.
“I didn’t get to choose whether or not I got cancer. I don’t get to choose whether or not I survive, or how the cancer behaves. I instead think about the things I do get to decide,” Soper said.
With a big smile, Soper will hug anyone willing to accept. If it brightens someone’s day, he feels it is worth it.