My name is Hilla Harawitz and everyone describes me as the “smartest girl in the school”. Every time I do well on a test, there are always at least ten people who come up to me and say, “Of course you did so well. I mean, you are the smartest girl in the whole school.” This drives me crazy! I dislike being called “the smartest girl” because people are just judging me on how smart I am. What really matters in life is how nice or friendly or kind I am.
There are millions of ways to define the word “smart”, and most people only look for one kind of smartness in people: whether they are good in school or not. If you are not a good student, then you are always categorized as not being smart and that is not true. I have so many friends who are smart in ways that you might not even think are ways to be smart. My friend Dina, for example, is always the go-to person when we need directions to a certain place and directions to get back home. My friend, Tzippy always knows the right thing to say to people to cheer them up if they are in a bad mood. She is also always the first person to make a new girl feel welcome at school. She gets along with people because she has a special way of interacting with them. Those are ways to be smart too, right?
I want to tell you a little story about one day in school:
It was a regular Wednesday afternoon. I got a 105% on my Chumash test, and people were coming up to me and praising me on how smart I am, which still made me feel awkward no matter how many times it happens. This time, however, I was standing next to my really good friend Yehudit. Yehudit is in all of the lowest level classes in school and she does not do too well on any tests, but I consider her to be one of the smartest people. You might ask why she is one of the smartest people if she is in all of the lowest level classes in school and does horribly on tests. The answer is, while she might not be smart in school, she is the best artist that I have ever seen in my life and I have seen a lot of people who draw exceptionally well. Her paintings look like they were painted by Picasso or Rembrandt, not by an average 13 year old girl.
Unfortunately, nobody else realizes how smart she is. On that day, when everybody was complimenting me on how smart I was, most people did not say anything to her, which was fine by her because she did not want to be called out. Then, all of a sudden, a group of popular girls came to join everyone who was complimenting me, and they were saying how great I am because I am so smart and all the usual things. Then, they started talking to Yehudit, but they did not say the same nice things that they said to me. The head of the group, Liora, started shouting at Yehudit, “You are such a good for nothing because you are so stupid! You should be put in Kindergarten because you do not know anything at all! I bet you do not even know what 1+1 equals!” At first, the insults did not bother her at all, but once they started criticizing the painting that she made of her backyard, she became livid. She worked for two years on perfecting that painting, and hearing someone say that it looked like garbage and that she should never have decided to become an artist become she is terrible at it just made her explode. She ran straight to the girl’s bathroom, while everyone else just started laughing hysterically at her because she “chickened” off. I decided that it was so rude what these girls were doing, so I tried to speak up against them and tell them that what they are doing is very wrong and very mean, and when I finished the girls just pretended to stop and then after a couple of minutes they continued laughing. Since it was no use trying to get them to stop, I ran to the girl’s bathroom to be with Yehudit.
As soon as I got there, I did not see Yehudit anywhere, so I started calling her name. “Yehudit! Yehudit! It is me, Hilla,” I kept on screaming. The first two times that I called her, I did not get any answer from her, but finally on the third try I heard, “I am in the big stall”. I immediately rushed to her, and I saw tear stains all over her clothes and face, and she was still crying hysterically. She was gasping for air so much that I thought she would never regain her breath. “Yehudit, calm down. Just calm down. Everything will be alright,” I spoke to her as softly and calmly as I could. As soon as I said that everything will end up being alright, I started second guessing myself. Would everything end up being alright? What if they were not? I cannot lie straight to my best friend’s face, but I knew that the words were already out of my mouth, and she heard them so there was no use in hoping that they would just disappear from the air and seem like I did not say that. “Thank you for trying to cheer me up Hilla, but you do not have to lie to me. I know that things will never get better because when people see me, they just judge me on how well I do in school, which is not very well, and not how great my artwork looks,” she explained.
I knew that what she was saying was true, though I did not want to believe that it is. All of a sudden I became speechless. I could not continue this conversation so I just said, “How about you try to go out of the bathroom? You cannot hide in here for the rest of your life! At some point you will have to go out.” It worked because she agreed to try to go out of the bathroom. When we got out of the bathroom, I was surprised, in a good way, that those vicious girls were no longer there teasing anyone. That made Yehudit exceptionally happy, though she did not really show it.
“Hilla, um, I have to tell you something very important that I should have told you before but never got the chance. I am moving at the beginning of the summer to Pennsylvania. My dad got a very high paying job at one of the best hospitals there. I do not really want to move because that means that I will not see you so often and you are one of the best friends that I have ever had! But it is only May 23, we still have a couple more weeks together,” she said, almost in tears again.
“What? You are moving? What will I do without you? I do not think I will ever have a friend that is as nice to everyone as you! Plus, we live in California, and you are moving to Pennsylvania! That is on the other side of the country!” I said, practically bawling now.
“Just remember one thing Yehudit, you are so smart. Do not believe people when they tell you that you are stupid. Just remember that there are so many ways to be smart, and you are smart in your own way. It is a shame that most people do not see that. But I do. I see how great your artwork is and how easy painting a magnificent picture comes to you. You were practically born to paint masterpieces. The message that I want you to take with you is this: Do not think that just because someone does poorly in school they are not smart; they are so smart, way smarter than anyone who gets all A+’s in school. That means, Yehudit, that when people say ‘Hilla, you are so smart!’ they are talking to you as well because you are much smarter than I am, and you will always be.”