Look Beyond the Surface

I have always been labeled “The Christian.” When I entered the secular community of Andover as a new Lower, I clung to this religious identity. It became my safe rock during a year of turbulent changes. I did not want to conform to the homogenous secularism that a private boarding school inevitably produces. As a result, my first impressions with fellow students come across as strongly evangelical. Today, those first impressions are often impossible to overcome. Is it possible to change people’s perceptions of you? Yes. But is it probable? Not particularly. In a community as insulated as Andover can be, once a certain perception of an individual tumbles down the social grapevine, it becomes cemented. But in the minds of those in the community, Andover is a sizable enough bubble that its students cannot meet everyone (as much as some do try). Without an actual understanding of the majority of my fellow students, I tend to form my opinion based upon either a one time first impression or a memorable story someone told me. This tendency creates serious problems. As one of the honorary “Official Christians” in my grade, I remember the first time I spoke up in conversation about sex during English class. Stares followed me from around the room. Students whose names I had just learned were shocked that I defied their vision of a “pure church kid.” In the Andover world of compulsive scheduling and addictive time management, it should not be surprising that we can be just as unyielding in our cataloging of fellow students. I know I have been guilty of this. Although acting on first impressions is a human instinct, the problem is exacerbated at a school like Andover. Our diverse community offers such an important opportunity for personal growth and self-redefinition, and I often find it tragic when I see students stuck in the rut of the first impression they made—an impression that they are consistently measured against and judged by. I applaud the students who do retaliate against the role expected of them; I respect the students who worked hard to set a new standard for how they wish Andover to view them. Unfortunately, the students whose growth has changed our community’s perception of them are not the norm. Rather I’ve witnessed a sort of “personality flattening” process. Students are remembered for what they are best at, or for what they were initially vocal about when they entered the school. The grapevine manages to take students with a broad array of talents, passions and ideas, and compress that multi-faceted identity into a role that appears one-dimensional. To this day, I am still asked, “What do Christians think?” Next year I will be making new first impressions. Furthermore, it is inevitable that I will change in the years after my freshman year of college. In fact I sincerely hope that I do outgrow the person I am now—to me this seems only healthy. But, as I leave Andover to head off into a brave new world, I hope that the community from which I have learned so many lessons learns one as well: do not view people in one dimension. Encourage growth. Rachel Coleman is a three-year Senior from Manchester, ME.