First Days, first impressions

Dorothy Gaby, Stephen Tangerine Ai and me, Sam B. Alterman. If you are a first-year here at the College, there’s a very good chance that you know our names and maybe even our faces. We are the admins of the Class of 2018 Facebook group.

And now we are here, on campus, with you. You see us on the sidewalks and the quads, in Sawyer and the ’62 Center, in Driscoll and Whitman’s and Mission. You see us at soccer games, in classes and in Paresky. And you run up to us, shouting our names, taking our pictures and, if you were that one entry encountering Dorothy, bowing before us. You refer to us with words like “goddess,” “prince” and “legend.” We are “THE Sam B. Alterman,” “THE Dorothy Gaby” and “THE Stephen Tangerine Ai.”

For some of you, this is an expression of gratitude. Humorous tone aside, I genuinely appreciate every time someone thanks me for the work I did as an admin. The feeling of knowing that you have helped out somebody else is one of the most satisfying, and every time I experience it, my day is made. For many of you, however, we are your celebrities. For months you have been seeing our names on your computer and mobile screens. Your attention is not because of the words that appeared next to our names but because our names were there for months, and when you see us in real life it is like a Williams College version of seeing a movie star. You try to take selfies with us. You run up to us yelling, “You’re Sam B. Alterman!” “You’re Dorothy Gaby!” “You’re Stephen Tangerine Ai!” Some entries are apparently playing games of who can take the most pictures of us around campus. It’s all rather flattering, to be honest.

The issue is, despite what you actually think, you don’t really know us. At all. Many of you mispronounce Dorothy’s last name (it’s pronounced Gābē, rhymes with baby) or use my middle initial (I only go by Sam B. Alterman online and in publications). Many of you apparently thought Stephen was a girl? (Stephen is male in case you were wondering.)

Facebook has a strange way of making us feel like we know people before we have met them. Because we have access to so much information about our Facebook friends – their likes, favorite bands, posts from middle school and pictures, tons of pictures – it is very easy to fall into the trap of assuming everything about a person is boldly displayed on his or her Facebook page. And while we all know that we shouldn’t form impressions before meeting someone, Facebook makes it so easy and so tempting that many of us just can’t resist. When entry lists were released in July, I immediately began tracking down my entrymates, poring over the past several years of their posts and pictures, pegging the nerds, the jocks, the partiers and the generally dull. On move-in day, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what my entry looked like. I thought I knew who I would like and dislike, who would be my friend and who I would merely tolerate.

The funny thing about first impressions, however, is they are almost always wrong. To paraphrase a great movie, people are like onions – they have layers. And as First Days went on and my entry became closer and closer, those onion layers began to peel away. People I had pegged as “unfriendly jocks” turned out to be some of the most intelligent and caring people in my entry; people I had expected to be dry and dull ended up being hilarious; people I thought were just about partying were in fact some of the hardest working and most thoughtful people in my entry. An entry that I originally thought was a very mixed bag revealed itself to be my favorite group of 22 people on campus.

I urge you, my fellow classmates, to get to know each other; to not just cling to the faces you recognize from the Facebook group and instead talk to someone you have never heard of before. I know this gets repeated so much that it sounds incredibly fake, but, really, we are all here for a reason. I guarantee that everyone in this valley has a story to tell and something to teach you. So please, don’t just cling to the Dorothy Gabys and Sam B. Altermans of this campus. Instead, try introducing yourself to three new people a day. After all, you never know who may end up being your best friend.

Sam B. Alterman ’18 is from Bethesda, Md. He lives in Dennett.