First impressions don’t define people

By Breeda Bennett-Jones

Millions of recent high school graduates have, within the past month, packed their bags, said their goodbyes to their parents and have entered a world of its own — college.

I’ve heard stories from my friends and family about what to expect when starting this new chapter of my life, but I could never have imagined how it would truly feel to call a place where I’m surrounded by peers that I know little about my “home.”

Students introduce themselves with a classic handshake. (AP Photo)

I’ve witnessed a few unusual behaviors in my first couple weeks as a college student, such as washing dishes in the communal bathroom sink or wearing flip flops in the shower. However, what really stood out to me and caught my attention the most is the ungodly amount of times I had to introduce myself to my new peers by smiling, shaking their hand and asking “Where are you from?” and “What’s your major?”

There is nothing as charming as a smile or as timeless as a handshake. Asking people to divulge their basic qualifications is a simple, sincere way of finding common ground. However, after going through the same motions with 49 other students on my floor, I’ve become anxious and self-conscious. Different thoughts have bounced through my mind when introducing myself, such as my voice sounding weird or my handshake being too feeble.

First impressions are not limited to face-to-face interactions. Maintaining updated, entertaining social media posts is essential toward developing other people’s perception of ourselves, especially in college. I’ve found that it is important to seem mature, cool and well-read for future classmates who may browse my different social media webpages.

I do not question a person’s desire to make a good first impression. However, I do question how and why someone might come across differently than how they wish to be perceived. I believe it is mostly due to our inherent need, as humans, to organize concepts into different categories.

We strive to brand others as funny, outgoing or shy because we love to classify things into groups. We characterize each animal by species, genus and family. We reference others based on the shade of their skin, gender and sexual orientation. We organize the world into continents, countries, states and cities. Being able to stamp a label on someone after we meet them fulfills an internal desire to establish and arrange new faces in our minds. It’s a memory game in which a person becomes permanently labeled based on mere seconds of conversation.

The problem of judging others based on their first impression is not specific to college freshmen. For upperclassmen, first impressions come in the form of job interviews, where they must win over potential employers with the proper handshake and smile in order to get the internship that will build their career.

First impressions are repetitive and can come across disingenuous, yet we use them to determine character. Why are we so quick to judge new people? The answer is almost as complicated as doing my own laundry for the first time. But once I practiced making a good first impression, it was as simple as separating my dark clothes from my white.

If you want to revamp how others see you, be as genuine as possible. Do not feel forced to be someone you are not, whether that is super outgoing or incredibly introverted. Don’t pretend in order to fit in with your peers. Be yourself and a good first impression will happen effortlessly.

Recognize when someone else is trying to make a good first impression with you, and keep an open mind. This is best put in the words of children’s author, Sharon Creech, in her novel, “Walk Two Moons.” Creech wrote, “In the course of a lifetime, what does it matter? Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”

Foster relationships, don’t be quick to judge and be confident enough in the person you are so you don’t feel the need to change yourself. Make a first impression the first item of information you learn about a person. Show initiative to get to know someone on a deeper level by talking and meeting with them a second, third and fourth time. There is more to a person than their handshake and their smile.