Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Disclaimer: The Daily Gazette published this article after voting had ended, not anticipating a run-off election. The Daily Gazette is not endorsing any of the candidates for Student Council Co-President.
A baseball player, RA, StuCo member, DU brother, actor, and facial hair aficionado — I’m not sure what Matt Lamb hasn’t been involved in during his time at Swat. While he claimed to have been quiet and shy in his high school years, Matt was nothing of the sort when I talked with him, as he amiably and freely opened up his thoughts concerning life, the universe, and everything. Dude’s got some big plans, and I, for one, am eager to see where he goes next.
Well, what are you doing right now? What’s your major?
I’m Econ and Poli-Sci.
So how’d you end up in these majors? Was this something you knew coming into college?
I always wanted to do Econ. I think at first, I thought I wanted to do finance, and get into the finance industry, but that just didn’t jive with me at all. I didn’t want to be caught up in the cubicle, punching in Excel data.
I got this internship after freshman year with an economic development firm in South Africa, and I lived there for three months. I did a home stay, and from there, I learned that I was more interested in econ development and political economy. I loved my poli-sci classes here. I started taking religion classes, and I got so into political theory, comparative politics, political economy, international politics — that whole realm.
What was South Africa like? Have you gone back?
It was incredible. I told myself: “I just want to get out of my comfort zone.” I’m from a suburb of Los Angeles, and I wanted to try something new. But then the first day, we fly into Johannesburg, and I don’t know anybody, and a week later, we’re in this village on the border of Mozambique. I’m living in this really small cinder block hut with a family of six, and it was just… My comfort zone was here [gestures here] and I’m way over there [points way over there]. I knew it was always something I wanted to do. I knew I always wanted to help people. But I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t really know how bad it was.
We were way off in this village, away from everything, and I was really struck by the apartheid influence. I was working in primary schools, and the education system is so poor. There definitely was a theme of “don’t think for yourself,” but it was getting better.
Would you say that you have good reason to go back? Do you have that philosophy?
Well, my brother and I talk about wanting to go back, and one of our goals in the far-off future is to start a development venture capitalist firm in sub-saharan Africa. It’s tough, graduating from college, and having to make a living and pay taxes while having these kinds of ambitions. Part of me can’t just pack up and move to South Africa and try to change the world. It doesn’t work that way! [laughs]
Or so we think… It doesn’t sound like you’ve given up on this idea of business, maybe just finance. So is this the extent of what you see yourself moving towards? What else are you up to?
I’m applying to law school right now. This is funny, because we talk about how interested I am in economic development and political theory and whatever, but after I came back from being abroad first semester junior year in Prague, I got way into American politics. I never really liked American politics my first two years here, I just wasn’t into it, but now, I love reading about what’s going on, getting into the elections and all of that. That’s where I hope law school could possibly take me — politics. You know, Swarthmore has given me so many ideas of what I love, or what I want to do, and it’s still so difficult focusing that down.
So one poli-sci major to another: how do you keep up with news?
Honestly, I read a ton of Politico, Washington Post, CNN…
The Daily Show?
I don’t watch it as much as I should . . . but I like to keep up with both the far left and the far right. I do follow Fox News.
I think it’s kind of humorous in some aspects [laughs]. My dad’s a big Republican, and I’ll watch Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly with him sometimes. I’ll tone down the political commentary; he’s not that happy when I talk about this stuff.
Do you guys actually get into tiffs on this?
Not usually, but it’s happened, at dinner or something.
What did he think when you decided to come to Swarthmore?
He loved it. He went to the Naval Academy, and I was actually thinking of doing that for a while, but realized it’s not for me at all. Even though Swat’s so liberal, he doesn’t really mind.
So how many siblings do you have?
An older and younger brother. My younger brother’s applying here, actually, so maybe he’ll be here soon.
What was it like growing up in your house?
My older brother’s in law school, and he loves to take the other side of any argument and play devil’s advocate. That happens a lot in my house. Sibling rivalry at its finest.
So do you have any stories about your brother?
Last summer, I met him at Notre Dame (where he goes to school), and we drove the car from South Bend to L.A., across country, and saw all these sights we’d wanted to see. I’d never done that long of a road trip before, and it was only me and him in the car. [laughs] So we saw the Field of Dreams in Iowa, and we saw Mount Rushmore. I remember, in the middle of South Dakota, we were fuming at each other. We hadn’t seen anybody but each other for the last 72 hours! We pulled up to a Subway, and we sat at separate tables, just eating sandwiches and getting a break from each other. Then we got back in the car, and said “we can do this.” He’s one of my better friends.
Speaking of Field of Dreams, I hear you play baseball?
I love baseball. I’ve played since I was 3 or 4 years old. I’m a catcher. Baseball’s why I came to Swarthmore, actually. I went to a baseball recruiting camp, and the recruiting coach saw me, and asked me “have you ever heard of Swarthmore?”
But it’s my last season, and it’s weird, I’ve been playing since I was 3 or 4 years old, and this is it. Right here. And I’ve pretty much done it every day of my life.
So what else do you do here? I’ve heard rumors…
I was on Student Council, and I resigned because I’m running for Student Council President. I was pretty shy in high school, and I didn’t run for anything. I guess here at Swat, I felt comfortable, so I decided to run.
You said that you feel “comfortable” here. What went into that?
I don’t really know, to be honest. I kind of came out of my shell. I remember freshman orientation, and the first night that I got here, I went on transfer websites. [laughs] I was so scared, I don’t know why, but I was nervous, I was a mess.
That’s rough, man.
And to look where I am now, it’s just night and day. I’ve got a great group of friends, and the atmosphere of this campus is so accepting and empowering.
Do you have a moment where you felt like “oh, I do fit here.” I mean, we always joke about the “admissions mistake,” but what happened for you?
I think it’s been gradual. I’m in DU, so my first friends were there. Sophomore year, I wanted to try new things, so I applied to SAC, I applied to StuCo, I was in a friend’s theater production. I slowly started to get more comfortable, more sociable. I tell people I’m an RA, and they’re like “wow, you’re so sociable,” but I really used to be pretty shy and quiet.
So you’re in DU. Tell me about that.
DU got me: I think I stayed here because of DU. My best friends are in the fraternity. You know, you move dorms, you move rooms, and the members of DU are fortunate enough to have a house on campus that I can go to right when I get back, just sit down on a couch and watch TV, and know that my friends are going to be there. Maybe that was the moment when I first felt comfortable, knew I had a home.
Do you have any things you are sure about? What do you feel you can stake yourself on?
I want to use what I’ve been given, what I’m good at, to help people, to make people better off. One of the struggles I’m having is that I want to be happy and have a good time, but maybe happiness actually is helping others, and doing something to empower others, while hopefully finding happiness yourself, being content. There’s so much to be done, so gotta think big… I wish you had asked me this question earlier, so that I could have come up with a better answer! There’s more to standard daily life that we could do — we’re at Swarthmore for a reason — we can do more with our education. Going to South Africa was empowering, but it was also one of the happier times of my life. I really loved being there.
So last question: if you could do anything, and it actually worked, what would you do?
I think in 8th grade I wrote I wanted to be an astronaut or something, but that didn’t really work out . . . I’m interested in going into politics. I think that has the means for reaching the largest number of people. Whether it’s education reform, prison reform, there are so many ways you could do something that makes a difference. That’s a dream of mine — getting into politics, maybe running for office one day. And working with my brother, working on this development firm, whatever that boils down to. Those are my two dreams right now.
This interview has been edited and condensed.