Matthew Chaffinch ’18: What Happens Next?

4 mins read

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.

On July 16, 1945, a small desert in New Mexico hosted the first detonation of a nuclear weapon in human history. Years later, Robert Oppenheimer recalled the general feeling of him and his colleagues in the ensuing moments: “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed. A few people cried. Most people were silent.”

On June 1, 2014, a small school in Delaware hosted my high school graduation ceremony. My classmates and I knew that our lives would never be the same. A few of us laughed. A few of us cried. I was mostly silent. For weeks, I would be telling the people who asked me how it feels to have graduated that “it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” but the truth is that it didn’t really feel like anything. My mind had already moved on, skipping over graduation in its descent from the rush of perpetual high school deadlines to the uncertain monotony of my summer job.

What happens next?

In past summers, every day of my week was a Saturday. Those days are gone now, replaced with a perpetual Monday. The unfortunate reality of monotonous summer jobs is that they give you a little too much time to think. Some of my thoughts are positive—I’m going to one of the best colleges in the country, a place with a fascinating Quaker history, a place where I know I’m going to go and have amazing discussions and grow intellectually and learn to think more critically and become the kind of person I’ve always admired—but there’s always a gnawing anxiety accompanying them. What if I can’t handle the workload? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I drown during the swim test?

My brain was simply not built to handle this unique combination of malaise and excitement. My summer thus far has been this aggressively boring limbo period of working and sleeping, but I keep getting a nagging feeling that these are going to be my last three weeks of freedom. I desperately want to move on to my life at Swarthmore, but I can’t even bring myself to buy any college supplies. I’ve been confused into inaction by anxiety, but I can’t help but feel excited about all my college has to offer.

It’s weird to think that after 18 years, this is the very last time I’ll be able to write from the perspective of someone with no collegiate experience. Where am I going to be 3 years from now? Will I even be at Swarthmore 3 years from now? What if I’m at Swarthmore 5 years from now? What will I think when I look back and read this article? I mean, I never really showed any pretense of trying to minimize how much this piece would make my future self cringe—I started it by implying that my high school graduation was analogous to the first detonation of an atomic bomb. What kind of person will Swarthmore make out of me?


Matthew Chaffinch

Matthew is a junior from Delaware. He is a Contributing Editor for The Daily Gazette.

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