“Hey…I know this is last minute but I just wanted to say that the more I’ve thought about it, the more I really don’t understand why I would be person of the year, although it is a huge compliment which I truly appreciate. There are SO many amazing people at the high school who contribute so much more to the community that I do. I’ll happily come in tomm morning and we’ll have our chat, but unless you were confident in your decision to write about me, you should write about anyone else you were strongly considering. I will be a full supporter of whatever you choose!!!!” (Received 9:46 PM)
On the night before we were supposed to meet to talk, Eleanor sent me this text. As with everything she does, there’s a certain sweetness, a kindhearted humility to the text that makes it–and her–all the more endearing. Her text accomplished just the opposite of what she set out to do by sending it; as soon as I saw the blue bubble pop up on my screen, it only reaffirmed the choice we’d made at The Forest Scout to have Eleanor as Person of the Year.
With Person of the Year, we weren’t trying to find the most over-scheduled student at this high school. However, Eleanor has sampled almost every offering, extracurricular and elective, that LFHS has to offer–woodshop, Poms, cross country, Glee Club, badminton, theater, and more. While a running list of achievements and accolades may boost your chances of getting accepted into your college of choice, at the end of the day they don’t necessarily make you a better person. The heart and soul behind the résumé is what will matter five, ten, fifteen years down the road, and that is what we are looking to celebrate. With a heart of gold and a smile to match, Eleanor is undoubtedly 2018’s Person of the Year.
Eleanor is a curious person by nature–about the people in her life, the world around her, and what exactly makes her cat purr. “That’s what I do in my free time,” she said. “I watch Crash Course videos and Science Every Day. Yesterday morning while I was getting ready I was listening to ‘Why do Cats Purr?’, like, how do cats purr? I was wondering if my cat was actually happy, or if it was just a thing she was doing.” After a beat, she said, “It was just a thing she was doing,” with a laugh. “Which is kind of upsetting, but what can you do?”
This innate curiosity has led to a desire to fully explore whatever environment she’s in, a mindset that has opened her eyes and helped her to put her phone down. One of her greatest takeaways from high school has been that we are in charge of our own happiness, and the black mirrors (a nod to one of her favorite shows on Netflix) that we carry around in our pockets aren’t always the truest reflection of us. It wasn’t until senior year, however, that she came to this realization: “People are are afraid to get rid of all that stuff because then they’ll miss out on something, which totally makes sense, especially with Snapchat. It’s like a form of communication, but then I’m hanging out with people and I see them on their phones, just sending, like, blank stares.” She paused. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s so exhausting,” Eleanor finished. “Most people hate it, too.”
In her free time, Eleanor does anything but mindlessly thumb through social media accounts. WIth mountains in her past (she trekked through the Wind River Range in Western Wyoming with a NOLS group last year) and her future (she’ll call Salt Lake City home for the next four), Eleanor is happiest outdoors: “People usually don’t peg me as a super outdoorsy person, I don’t know. I love it. I don’t care about being dirty or any of that.”
If she’s not outside, Eleanor is perfectly content with a night in with her best friend–the aforementioned feline called Piper: “Sometimes I feel like I’m an old lady–knitting, hanging out with my cat, baking cupcakes all the time.” In a culture dominated by social media-induced anxiety and stressful nights out, Eleanor’s old soul shines through joy in the mundane: a pair of knitting needles, eating a bowl of frosted mini wheats in the morning while her mom reads the paper, etc.
It’s in her nature to just take life as it comes. When asked about her plans at the University of Utah, she said, “I plan on going into nursing, but if that changes, that’s fine. I don’t have a distinct vision of myself however many years from now because, you know, I don’t know where I’m going to end up. I have a go-with-the-flow mindset, which I think makes life much less stressful. You can just enjoy it and trust that it’ll all work out.” This seemingly laid-back frame of mind takes courage and confidence; it takes trust in what she’s capable of and the knowledge that all she’s done so far is more than enough to keep her going.
Instead of fretting about the future like many of her peers, this mindset also allows her to appreciate the present moment to its fullest extent: “I have a quote that I always say–like, even to my friends I’ll say it–it’s, ‘Don’t think so much about where you’d rather be that you forget where you are.’ It goes for so many things. Like, ah, man, I wish I was just in college right now. But don’t think so much about where you’d rather be–in college, for example–that you forget where you are right now,” she paused. “Enjoy where you are right now.” From the smile on her face and the light in her eyes, it was clear to see she meant what she said; she wasn’t spouting proverbial quotes she’d ripped off Pinterest or a Facebook post. Instead, Eleanor chose to share the hard-won insight she’d gained from her own life so those around her can take part in the happiness it’s brought her.
This is because over the years, Eleanor has discovered that happiness is the only thing you can give without having. However counterintuitive it may seem, she lives her life by this belief, and anyone who knows her can attest to the fact that making others smile has brought her so much in return. Even so, Eleanor doesn’t take much credit for it– “Well, I know that quote probably came from, like, Pinterest or something.” Taking it a step further, Eleanor elaborated on the fact that being anything but kind doesn’t serve a purpose: “Being mean doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand why people gossip.” Genuinely confused, she continued, “What does that do?”
While it may have originated on a Pinterest board, what really brought this adage to life for Eleanor was the legacy her beloved older brother Ben (LFHS ‘13) left behind–in the spring of 2014, he died by suicide while away at college: “When everything happened with my brother, being in that whole situation and talking to his friends–that’s what completely shifted my mindset and my view on life. People would talk about him and how he was just nice to everyone and never judged anyone, and everyone loved him. I was like, I want to be like that.”
She has spent her time since trying to make others smile even when she couldn’t herself: “When you make another person happy, it’s, like, the best feeling. If you can make another person smile or, if they tell you somewhere down the road that you made that day so much better, that you made that time in their life so much better–like, wow. That’s great. That’s really great.”
Very rarely in life do you have the privilege of coming across someone like Eleanor Asma, especially living where we do. In our day-to-day lives there’s an endless laundry list of things to complain about, things that keep us up at night and trapped in our own minds. As teenagers, as people living in Lake Forest, as a society in 2018, so rarely is the emphasis on the selfless love for life that Eleanor embodies. While it may seem radical in its simplicity, at the end of the day, it’s the kind of life we’re all aspiring to, right? A life free from the pressures of our devices, our futures, and our legacies, characterized instead by confidence in ourselves and the choice to lead a happy life.