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Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Two people can look at the same situation but see something entirely different. In the grand span of my 17 years of existence, I have learned that attitude is a choice. Our backgrounds and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are still in control of who we will become. Ultimately, there is no purpose behind pessimism. Regardless of what we undergo in our lives, the world will not stop to take pity on us, and no matter how we feel, we are still responsible for our actions. Unfortunate experiences can be either setbacks or motivators depending on how we view them.
One of the best examples I know of the power of attitude is a boy named Jack who I have been working with for the past six years. We work together in the classroom and exercise together at the Jewish Community Center. Jack is a year younger than I am, and he suffers from severe autism. Having spent such an extensive amount of time with Jack, I have seen the way people look at him. I know firsthand what other people say when he screams, hits himself, and shakes uncontrollably. When I see Jack, however, I don’t see his impaired speech or the fact that he will not stop hitting himself in the head. I see a boy just like me with problems just like mine. To the general public, Jack and I appear totally different from one another, but we are really very much the same. Jack is incapable of communicating the way I can, but I cannot communicate the way he does, either. I organize my words and actions to convey my thoughts and feelings. In contrast, Jack has an extraordinary ability to communicate through love. Even though his peers ridicule him, he loves them. When he is mistreated, he passes no judgments. He does not feel sorry for himself. He does not retaliate. He loves. No matter what anyone does to him, he still treats everyone like his best friend. He possesses an ability to forgive that I envy. So when other people see an autistic boy with whom they do not know how to act, I only see Jack, the boy I want to emulate.
Attitude is an individual matter. I know from personal experience what it is like to have a bad attitude. I walked into high school with a closed mind and an unwilling heart. I did not want to make friends or try anything new. But my sister, who was then a junior in high school, changed my mind. Her persistence in maintaining her optimism and strong sense of self gradually rubbed off on me. By my sophomore year, I had a new lease on life. I began taking on leadership roles, looking forward to school, and blossoming socially. I saw firsthand the difference that a change in attitude could make. I saw the way my sister’s attitude affected not only her own growth as a person, but mine as well. Because of her, I decided to change my attitude for the better. My sister and I are still very different people, but our shared motivation, open-mindedness, and genuine concern for others now bind us not only as sisters, but also as friends.
One of the most important lessons my sister taught me was how to lose. It is important to recognize that failure is an unavoidable part of life, and learning how to get back up again is an absolute necessity. If we were not in our current situation, we would be in another that posed equal challenges. No one will ever be consistently happy all the time, but a transformed viewpoint can turn mishaps into lessons. A change in attitude yields a change in lifestyle, productivity, and overall happiness. We are in charge of our own lives, and I know that my attitude — combined with my determination to succeed and my eagerness to learn and evolve — will lead me down the right road for me. If I could tell the rest of the Villanova Class of 2015 just one thing, it would be to do some soul-searching to find the roots of their unhappiness and then change their attitudes toward the sources of their discontent. We do not need a new set of circumstances. God gave us the circumstances we have for a reason. With the right attitude, we can each determine our future.
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