Towards the end of the year, an underground campaign spreads through the senior hallway. No, it’s not a plot to build a swimming pool on the fourth floor or install an obscure modern art exhibition in the New Wing: it’s voting for senior superlatives. While they’re admittedly goofy and materialistic, all of us secretly want to win one so as to say, “I was here and I was noticed.” In choosing which superlative to run for, I didn’t opt for a flashy, impressive title. Instead, I campaigned for — and ultimately won —Most Huggable, because that’s how I want to be remembered: not as a gorgeous goddess or perfect brainiac, but rather as a friendly, approachable person who touched the lives of others both physically and metaphorically.

As I cheese for the camera like a dork with a big “Free Hugs” sign shaded in crayon, I think back to my days as a freshman when I would have a meltdown if I got anything below a B in humanities and daydreamed constantly about moving away and meeting different people. I wasn’t a loner, but I prioritized academics over everything and didn’t make much of an effort to socialize with others. I felt as if I didn’t belong. My lunches and study halls were spent with my kind English teacher, and on weekends, I’d pass my hours reading instead of going out to do something fun. My world was the four corners of my textbooks and novels, my mind various portraits of collegiate futures.

But over the course of high school I’ve changed. I’ve grown to see the beauty of living in the moment, of making connections with people and creating a place to belong even when one isn’t immediately presented. For my final year in Wilton, I made it my mission to reach out, to embrace the wonderful individuals I’ve discovered are in fact here and now, not there and later. My once narrow social circle has become a colorful, happy sphere, filled with freshman friends, sophomore friends, junior friends, senior friends, teacher friends, yoga friends, and everything in between. Though I’m not the flawless student with the 4.0 as I used to be, I’ve learned that it proves equally important to balance academics and adventures, to sometimes compromise a few hours of studying to get ice cream or take artsy pictures at the beach with friends. While I’m not going to get a fabulous award for my high school accomplishments to hang on my wall, I’ll have something more valuable to take away instead: the ideas and love of my most treasured companions to keep my heart warm whenever I’m feeling lonely. That, to me, is more satisfying than any honor I could ever receive.

It’s easy in life to follow the norm, to pick a concrete goal and push past everything and everyone in order to get there. You’ll likely be rewarded once you arrive, be it at that elite university or coveted job position, but you will have blazed by so many lovely souls along the way, and that is a terrible loss. We need success and and satisfaction, but also conversation and compassion: we have to blend them all together to really feel fulfilled in our ambitions and achievements.

Life is far less destination than journey, and it’s best to slow down and take others along for the ride with you. It’s so important to listen and understand people, to hug them, to wrap them strongly and sincerely in your arms and remind them, “I love you, you’re beautiful, I’m here, you’re here, and that’s what matters.” Because really, that’s all we have: you, me, and the present. Take it and make it something meaningful, not next year, not in 10 years, but right. Now. Do it. I dare you.


Abby Schiff is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.