Not many Montclair State alumni can say that they have
played a part in the birth of a nation, but Valon Sopaj ’03 is one who can. On
February 17, 2008, the new nation of Kosova was born, and a monumental public
sculpture entitled “NEWBORN” was unveiled in the capitol city of
Prishtina. Sopaj, a graduate of the
graphic design specialization of the Department of Art and Design, is a member
of the team of designers that envisioned, designed and created the sculpture.
“NEWBORN was brought to life by a few artists who wanted to
mark the Independence Day of Kosova in a specific way,” says Sopaj, who is
manager and creative lead for the Interactive Design Division of Ogilvy Kosova
in Prishtina. “This sculpture was created for a specific time and place, and
for a specific reason.”
Kosova (also referred to as “Kosovo” in the U.S.) is a long
way from Declo, Idaho, where, in 1998, Sopaj arrived as a 17-year-old exchange
student. After a year and a half there,
he moved to New Jersey because of the many opportunities in the tri-state
area. “I guess I was a small-town kid
with big-city dreams,” says the Kosova native.
After a short time at CUNY Manhattan, he switched to
Montclair State and never looked back.
“I was completely lucky to stumble upon Montclair State,” he recalls. “I
was interested in finding a school that offered a great environment to study in
and allowed me to feel confident in my intellectual development.” Then he adds,
“Though I have to say that I applied because of its basketball program.”
Although Sopaj soon dropped his basketball aspirations—he
didn’t make the team—he did find a new goal: to become a graphic designer.
“Montclair State has a great Art and Design department,” he says. “There’s
something about its students and professors that make it special.” In
particular, Sopaj is grateful for the tutelage of John Luttropp, now chair of
the Department of Art and Design. “His ideas, questions and thoughts on design
are always a source of inspiration that has guided me throughout my career,”
That career has included working for an advertising agency, founding his own design firm, Lucid Vagabond, in Wayne, and eventually leading Sopaj back to his homeland of Kosova to work at Ogilvy. He is proud to be a part of the team that created the 9-ton, 24-meter long “NEWBORN.” The entire project, from concept to completion, took just 10 days with over 100 people working around the clock. For one day after its unveiling, the citizens of Kosova were allowed to sign the work and become a part of history. Sopaj is glad to have been a part of it too. “In my rather short career in design, I was able to be part of something that was bigger than life,” he says. “Design can make a difference.”