Acceptance Is: Part of a Positive Outlook

#everyoneissomeone text over a photo of Trisha Perry with her award
Meet Zachary Hughes

“I pledge acceptance of myself. I pledge to celebrate my perfect imperfection.”

These two lines from the Acceptance Pledge deeply resonate with Zachary Hughes.

“It’s about having a mindset of gratitude and growth,” he said. “Instead of the exposure of my imperfections and the realization of my shortcomings being the worst things that can happen to me, they are opportunities to grow.”

A positive outlook was essential for Zachary, the national winner of the 2015 Heisman High School Scholarship. Despite an asthma condition, Zachary thrived as a student-athlete at Westminster Christian Academy near St. Louis, Missouri.

He was the senior captain of his football team, sophomore captain of his track and field team, and won varsity letters in three different sports – all while maintaining excellent grades. Zachary was a National Honor Society member, National Merit Scholar Finalist, and College Board AP Scholar. He graduated from Furman University, where he also played wide receiver.

“Logistically, my life was practice, dinner, homework until 11:00 p.m., sleep, rinse, repeat,” he said. “It involved a lot of discipline and routine. But what drove me as much as anything was enthusiasm.”

In one of Zachary’s favorite books, Born a Crime, author Trevor Noah paints a vivid picture of optimism during Apartheid:

“There was maybe one car for every thousand people, yet almost everyone had a driveway. It was almost like building the driveway was a way of willing the car to happen.”

It’s the kind of hope that Zachary still aspires to realize as a newlywed husband and leadership consultant.

“You can’t achieve anything you can’t imagine first,” he remarked. “For me, the Heisman High School Scholarship served as my figurative driveway. It built the driveway so I could imagine a future of living significantly. It opened a door into a community and a future I couldn’t have imagined otherwise.”


“Let those moments of challenge reveal to you what you really care about,” said Zachary. “And in those moments, be the person humble enough to grow.”

In 2014, during a renewed national conversation about racial justice, Zachary became passionate about addressing the issues of equality and inclusion within his own community.

“For me, I had a lot of friendships cross-racially, especially through sports,” said Zachary. “And racial tensions that were simmering beneath the surface in our community were very real.”

To confront those tensions, he helped establish a club at Westminster called SEED (Students Educating Each Other about Diversity) to help students lean into diverse relationships and commit to a more profound understanding of their peers of a different race or ethnicity. The club has evolved into a school course.

“It was a space where people could come together and tell their stories,” said Zachary. “And in less of a program style. Sometimes what is most powerful is what’s most intimate, like eating together at the same table and really getting to know each other.”

He knows that true healing requires more than just optimism. It starts with humility.

“It’s not fun when the makeup comes off, and the blemishes are exposed,” he explained. “I think that the pull to avoid our greatest challenges is really strong. But if you can be grateful enough for the chance to grow, a better future is possible.”

“Let those moments reveal to you what you really care about,” said Zachary. “And be the person that prioritizes that.”

Want to learn more? Take the Acceptance Pledge for yourself today at

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