Dear freshman year Olivia,

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you will graduate! You did it! The bad news is that it won’t be how you imagined, nor will any of your senior spring. But this unexpected turn of events has taught you many lessons, so I figure I will save you some time and share them with you now.

This past spring I have learned my biggest life lesson to date. It is glaring and unapologetic, monstrous in its relentless truth and vexing in its cause for regret. You must live in the present. You must. And I know you might scoff at this because you hear it everywhere — in movies, inspirational quotes written in calligraphy, parents, teachers, and that intangible and omniscient voice that declares in a wistfully profound breath “that’s why they call it the present, because it is a gift”— but it is absolutely true. I think this lesson is such a significant one, and such a difficult one to actually live by, because it takes a real experience to truly learn and apply it. I have always known that sometime in the future I will look back on what was yesterday, a moment, but today, a memory, with fond longing. But still, the daunting awareness of a moment’s inarguable impermanence was not enough to keep me from staring towards the future. Throughout high school, you longed for the day where you would be free from the stress of difficult classes and social chaos. You dreamed of walking across the graduation stage and walking into a future where all of those frivolous stresses were behind you. But the second that freedom and stillness arrived, far earlier than expected, came the profoundly obvious realization that you miss it all.

I was hesitant to admit the nature of my forward-focused mind for the past four years because more than I am warning you, I am admitting to my current self that I made a mistake. But mistakes are critical to growth. And I think the biggest cause for regret over these past four years, more so than having a mindset that taught me a lesson, would be walking away from them as the same person that I am writing this letter to.

Once, a friend told you that people are the average of whom they surround themselves with. If this is true, then pat yourself on the back, because you have gotten to know some incredibly intelligent, talented, and above all, kind people over the past four years. One, by nature of being themselves, taught you how magical it is to prioritize confidence and not care what other people think. Another taught you that the greatest gift you can give yourself or someone else is laughter. Free yourself to enjoy every moment, big or small. After walking through the halls everyday for the past four years, sometimes on good days where you felt strong and capable, and other times on bad days where you felt dispirited and lonely, you will learn the unearthly and uplifting powers of a greeting or a smile. Smile at people. Say hello. Promise me that.

Lately, I have found myself wishing that I could experience moments again for the first time. I wish I could climb up the scaffolding on the Clune stage with my friend during rehearsals for Newsies again for the first time. I wish I could hug my friend as we shared the field and she scored a killer goal in our senior soccer season again. I wish I could be sitting in a sea of my loving castmates as we won the Halo award for “Best Musical” again. I even wish for the simple, small moments again. I wish I could walk through the hallway with my friend worrying about the test we are about to take, panicking that it might go poorly but subtly knowing that in the grand scheme of things, it does not matter. I wish I could laugh breathlessly in the cafeteria over an elementary joke that only I and one other person found funny. I wish I could sit on the floor of the jungle again, or play matball again, or walk the halls during passing time again.

I long to experience those moments because, whether simple or monumental, they carried a wholesome air of togetherness. I now realize that in those moments, I was not thinking about what came next or what came before. I simply experienced what was. It’s funny, isn’t it, freshman self, those are the moments that I remember. High school has taught me that you never know what is ahead. You can control neither the future, nor the present, nor the past. But your mindset is something you can control, and you can choose to enjoy and savor every moment. Because I guarantee it, soon enough those moments will be memories.

Enjoy it freshman self. Sending all the love.

Olivia

Olivia Vitarelli is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with three classmates.