These are my friends. Here, we are perfectly posed for my mother’s Canon camera and desperately waiting for the shutter to click so we can go back to eating snow like this:

We are utter and complete goofballs, honored scholars that still love throwing snowballs at each other’s backs just for laughs, and this doesn’t make us any less respectable. In fact, that childlike passion for life in its purest moments is just what I love about these people. I respect their ability to throw textbooks away for just a week for a spontaneous trip to the mountains.

It didn’t matter to me that our log cabin was covered in awkward bear paintings and creepy trolls on the bookcases. I didn’t even mind the pelts on the walls, and I’m a vegetarian. I couldn’t have cared less about the location when surrounded by these people.

Freshman year, I struggled to find people I knew I could trust. I tried to go out on Friday nights and constantly talk to new kids about sports or homework or anything I knew they would actually listen to. I fostered an identity that I wanted to have so people would be attracted to me. They would want me, and if they didn’t, I would make alterations again.

This philosophy didn’t work out too well for me. I kept losing people. Worse, I had lost myself, all for no reward.

And yet, junior year has taught me that the only true requirement for finding the best friends out there was being utterly and unapologetically you. These people didn’t care that I watched cartoon network most of my weekends or could get easily social exhausted. They let me sit on their couches and read their books instead of talking to them every once in a while. And, it was not because they were forced to or felt obligated to treat me in the way they did; they genuinely desired my friendship because we understood and appreciated each other for who we were.

I cannot stress enough the necessity of having people like this in your life: those who know you and accept every element of who you are. They will carry you through unimaginably difficult times, when you’re sure that all the pain can’t possibly be worth it. Friendship has proved to me a source of joy that never runs out. I often fail to realize my worth and potential, but these people remind me of it every day. I am motivated by the blessing of seeing their faces, even if it is at a high school lunch table, and knowing that they will always be there for tears or laughter or screams at midnight.

Life was never meant to be done alone, and despite my independence, I’ve realized that first hand. The world is plentiful with opportunities for relationship, so please don’t disregard that gift.
Find people who will love you for you. Find people who are willing to search and adventure to find the little things that are so big in the end. Find people who will eat snow with you.

To a student struggling to find this community, don’t give up. I know loneliness all too well, but it is not worth it to alter who you are to fit what a certain group of people wants you to be. Who you are is perfect, and if someone doesn’t recognize that, they don’t deserve you anyway.

Malia Mendez is a a member of inspirED’s Youth Advisory Board and is a junior at Orange Lutheran High School in Orange County, California.