In “First Impressions,” a winning essay from our 2019 Personal Narrative Contest for students, Isabel Hui writes about a time when she hoped to make a good impression — and what she learned about herself from it. Her narrative reads:
When I woke up on August 4, 2016, there was only one thing on my mind: what to wear. A billion thoughts raced through my brain as wooden hangers shuffled back and forth in the cramped hotel closet. I didn’t want to come off as a try-hard, but I also didn’t want to be seen as a slob. Not only was it my first day of high school, but it was my first day of school in a new state; first impressions are everything, and it was imperative for me to impress the people who I would spend the next four years with. For the first time in my life, I thought about how convenient it would be to wear the horrendous matching plaid skirts that private schools enforce.
It wasn’t insecurity driving me to madness; I was actually quite confident for a teenage girl. It was the fact that this was my third time being the new kid. Moving so many times does something to a child’s development … I struggled finding friends that I could trust would be there for me if I picked up and left again. But this time was different because my dad’s company ensured that I would start and finish high school in the same place. This meant no instant do-overs when I pick up and leave again. This time mattered, and that made me nervous.
After meticulously raiding my closet, I emerged proudly in a patterned dress from Target. The soft cotton was comfortable, and the ruffle shoulders added a hint of fun. Yes, this outfit was the one. An hour later, I felt just as powerful as I stepped off the bus and headed toward room 1136. But as I turned the corner into my first class, my jaw dropped to the floor.
Sitting at her desk was Mrs. Hutfilz, my English teacher, sporting the exact same dress as I. I kept my head down and tiptoed to my seat, but the first day meant introductions in front of the whole class, and soon enough it was my turn. I made it through my minute speech unscathed, until Mrs. Hutfilz stood up, jokingly adding that she liked my style. Although this was the moment I had been dreading from the moment I walked in, all the anxiety that had accumulated throughout the morning surprisingly melted away; the students who had previously been staring at their phones raised their heads to pay attention as I shared my story. My smile grew as I giggled with my peers, ending my speech with “and I am very stylish, much like my first period teacher.” After class, I stayed behind and talked to Mrs. Hutfilz, sharing my previous apprehension about coming into a new school and state. I was relieved to make a humorous and genuine connection with my first teacher, one that would continue for the remainder of the year.
This incident reminded me that it’s only high school; these are the times to have fun, work hard, and make memories, not stress about the trivial details. Looking back four years later, the ten minutes I spent dreading my speech were really not worth it. While my first period of high school may not have gone exactly the way I thought it would, it certainly made the day unforgettable in the best way, and taught me that Mrs. Hutfilz has an awesome sense of style!
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
When have you made a good or bad first impression? Tell us what happened: Who did you meet, and what were the circumstances — was it a job interview, the first day of school or perhaps a chance encounter on the street? What thoughts were going through your head at the time? What made the impression a positive one or not?
Do you agree with the saying, “You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression”? Have you ever recovered from a bad first impression you made or changed your initial thoughts about someone else?
Do you connect with anything in Isabel’s story? Have you ever fretted and agonized over an anticipated encounter or event? Which moments in the essay did you find most surprising, powerful or moving? Why?
At the end of the essay, Isabel reflects on her experience and gives the reader a take-away: “This incident reminded me that it’s only high school; these are the times to have fun, work hard, and make memories, not stress about the trivial details.” What do you think of that advice? Is there a moment in your life that changed the way you think or look at the world?
Isabel uses many vivid details to capture her feelings of fear and apprehension such as “meticulously raiding my closet,” and “I kept my head down and tiptoed to my seat.” Which “writer’s moves” that Isabel used in her narrative do you admire most? Choose one and share why you thought it was effective. How did it draw you into the story and help you to identify with the author’s situation?
Students, if Isabel’s story inspired you, consider turning what you wrote into your own personal narrative and submit it to our contest, now through Nov. 17, 2020.
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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.