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"Just Smile and Be Friendly"

“Just smile and be friendly.” I cannot even count how many times I heard these words in my mother’s calm voice during the hour-long drive over the hill. For all she tried, though, her advice did nothing to still the frantic butterflies in my stomach. It was my first day of boarding school, and only two weeks before, my family had moved 600 miles away from the only home I had ever known. I was overwhelmed by the changes.

I had not even unpacked my things in Williamstown before school started. When most freshmen had homes to go back to during breaks and weekends, I skipped over Williamstown as a “home” entirely. My cubicle in Mac is more a home to me than my cold room on Moorland Street, with its yellow walls that do little to brighten the space. Here, I have twelve other people on my hall who are all doing the same things as I am: working hard and having fun during what some say will be the best years of our lives.

That first day, I was absolutely terrified. I had never been the new kid before, at least not since I was two years old. I had gone to the same all-girls’ school with essentially the same forty kids for twelve years. I had lived within a mile from the house in which I was born. I had no idea how to make new friends. The challenge had just never been presented to me before. I was terrified at the thought of being one of over a hundred new members of a six-hundred-fifty student community. My graduating class at my old school would have been about fifty girls. Plus, about half of the students here were boys.

As far as I was concerned, the male species might as well have been Martians. I had gone to an all-girls’ school for twelve years, played girls’ hockey for six, and apart from twelve school dances, the only contact I had had with boys was with my brothers, which obviously doesn’t count. Going to school with boys for the first time was definitely an interesting experience: the excitement of clapping for couples leaving the Greer juxtaposed with listening to their sometimes-strange opinions in class.
I tried my very best to meet people. I made an effort to ask people’s names in the dining hall and Greer, but I know I could have done better. Most times I barely spoke outside the classroom. I was the paradigm “awkward freshman” and, let’s face it, I definitely still am.

What I’ve learned from this, though, is that that is just who I am; I am more comfortable in school than in social settings, and I guess I am okay with that. However, my hope is that, during my years at Deerfield, I will begin to shift in my ways. Being friendly never hurt anyone.

I have to say, one of the most defining moments in my Deerfield career came right at the beginning. That first day, when I was secretly terrified out of my wits, everyone was just so welcoming that I could not help but feel as though the jitters would pass. I met my proctors and Green Key, hallmates and those at my sit-down table, and everyone there just seemed so happy. Names went in one ear and out the other, but what stuck were the stories and the smiles.

Students exchanged summer tales and laughed, but it immediately became clear that everyone wanted to be at school more than any place they visited over the vacation.

Not only that, but everyone in the next few days was constantly asking me how I liked the place so far or whether or not I was settling in okay.
Everyone was so welcoming that my worries just started to slip away. I was able to give attention to classes as well as try to get situated in the social scene of Friday Greer nights and the neon-clad Disco.

Though I got lost many times in that first week–-I had to ask about five times which building was the Kendall–-there was always a smiling, returning member of the Deerfield community, a veteran who had gone through the same, sometimes-stressful changes that I was going through, willing to give directions and their own warm welcome.

That friendly happiness never went away. I hope next year to be one of those helpful smiles on the way to Spanish or the wave across the dining hall.

Just smile and be friendly. The butterflies fade, and I feel at home.

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