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Second place winner Ariel Vonk
Colonie Central High School

Beyond Words

Working at a costume store has always presented surprises. From questions about witch hunters to searches for 80's cartoon characters, I never faced a dull moment. But as it turned out, the requests that affected me the most were the ones that weren't actually spoken to me at all.

On a typical workday, with Halloween rapidly approaching, a coworker came to me with a distressed expression and a couple following him. He asked me to help them with wigs and then quickly disappeared, obviously desperate to remove himself from the situation. Attempting to match the smiles upon the couples' faces, I proceeded with my usual banter, asking them what they were looking for and how I could be of assistance. The woman stared at my mouth with intent as I spoke and then began speaking herself. I realized soon thereafter that there was something very different about this couple. I could barely interpret her utterances, while the man who accompanied her watched her quick moving hands, appearing to understand her thoughts completely. My coworker ran from the couple because they were deaf. He must have been intimidated by this fact, as many people seemed to be, based on the reactions of passers-by.

I asked her to repeat herself, watching her lips, eyes, and hands intently for clues, just as she watched mine. After catching onto this new blend of communication, the couple soon possessed the I Love Lucy wigs they had been looking for and their faces lit up, as if some invisible wall had just come down between us and we could finally see each other clearly.

As I checked the couple out, the woman left me a comment card, explaining the lack of barrier she felt between her and I, a barrier often found between those who are deaf and those who are not. I responded with one of the only sign language phrases I have ever learned, thank you. They left the store with eyes that held more happiness than mere words ever could.

From that point on, I knew that words were not as important as I had been taught by countless English teachers and monotonous textbooks. I now believe that communication without words can be infinitely more powerful than that which possesses words could ever be. In my experience, actions have and will always be more influential and memorable than words. The connection I made with that couple proved to be stronger than any I had ever made with a customer before, and perhaps even stronger than some connections I had with coworkers whom I had known for years. I knew from that experience alone that people would not remember me for what I say, but for what I do and will do.

No action will ever go wasted. Phenomenal, ghastly or mediocre, each choice and action one makes will have an impact, regardless of how great or infinitesimal it may seem. Every action and choice I make, I execute with purpose and commitment, knowing that actions will change my life more than any object, person or word ever could.