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Second place winner Allegra Padula Colonie Central High School

Note to a Younger Self

Ah, there you are, wishing you could just sit there, cozy on the couch, detached from your surroundings, nose buried within the confines of a book. But…why? You want to know something? You won’t realize it until the poetry judge who likely survived through nights at Woodstock informs you that you have been graced with the “spirit of theatre” after you bravely perform teenage poetry to an audience of expert writers. The lightbulb won’t turn on until the light-sensing rods of your vision actually register that bacteria can, in fact, turn fluorescent colors thanks to your own doing. It won’t resonate with you until you stand in front of your senior class to preach about determination without a prepared speech but with an elaborately decorated AP Biology “Team Sheldon the Nerd” t-shirt that spoke louder than any words. In fact, it will take the course of four grueling yet Renaissance-esque high school years for you to realize the sheer brilliance of the life that takes your hand and begs you to dance.

You’ll feel it in the tightening of your chest as you crane over your desk, almost reduced to tears over a challenging Calculus problem. Those tears will then subside upon reading a text from your Albanian best friend who coincidentally tackles the very same equation. You’ll realize it’s better to actively think and innovate than to dwell on what you deem impossible. That same best friend? You two will have a lot ahead of you: 10 p.m. conversations at Starbucks about astrophysics and the perpetual vastness of the universe, myriad hours spent “running the school” through your uncanny leadership. You’ll soon learn that it’s better to leave your mark on the world and defy the norm by adorning the halls with posters for your extracurricular clubs than to absentmindedly walk them like a zombie. You are meant to lead.

In other hallways, you’ll sit on the railing with friends and talk about dreams of your future and what you want to name your kids. You’ll slow-dance in the music hall with a boy you’ll regret being with, but you won’t regret the slow-dancing. You’ll skip through the streets of New York City as you revel in the fortune of being able to travel to the Metropolitan Opera House to watch “La Bohème” in your Opera Club. You’ll find diversity, the wind in your hair, mysteries, epiphanies, niches. Most importantly, you’ll find yourself; I promise you will, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t find you sooner.

Yes, there will exist times where you’ll want to put the pencil or the paintbrush down, curl up in a ball and listen to 80s music for weeks on end. You’ll reach a point where you don’t get accepted into your emotionally-invested dream college, but you trust in the fact that your college reality, whatever it may be, will far exceed any dreams. And, kid, you’ve just got to keep doing what you’re doing, because you’ll do it so well that there will come a day where it will, indeed, pay off. Life consists of iridescent moments that keep you alive, keep you motivated. The laughter of friends when you’re laying on their bed and eating pizza, the endless 2am conversations where you spontaneously write creative stories together, sitting in each other’s cars and singing to love songs, illuminated only by smiles and sunlight.

Because you were born to make people laugh. Born to write masterpieces, born to paint visions, born to be different. Born to live. After all, you “could not, at any age, be content to take your place by the fireside and simply look on. Life was meant to be lived. Curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.” Strive to embody that sage advice from Eleanor Roosevelt; embrace life, never conform, and write the beauteous story that is your own.

Now, go forth in your life, freshman self; face to the sun, not closing your eyes from blindness, but smiling from warmth.