Zebra Tales
Trey '21

Special Relativity

In my Modern Physics class with Mr. Hall this spring, we’ve pondered quantum theory, particle physics, and the atomic model, but as Prize Day creeps ever closer, the subject of special relativity has proven a fitting metaphor for the Sixth Form experience.
Right now, I’m on the precipice of receiving my diploma and matriculating to college. It’s funny–I remember reading The Great Gatsby in my Fourth Form English class with Ms. Rennard, and one of Fitzgerald’s quotes, which at the time perplexed me, has recently started to make a lot of sense. When Gatsby finally reunites with Daisy after their prolonged separation, his beloved green light loses its significance–put bluntly: “his count of enchanted objects [diminishes] by one.” In a similar fashion, I’ve been looking forward to this spring for so long, and yet now that it has arrived, it feels oddly mundane. The days seem long, but the weeks are short, and the months have whizzed by as swiftly as photons.

Perhaps special relativity has come into play. As an object approaches the speed of light, the distance it travels–in relation to an outside observer–contracts. In other words, a 100m dash would only feel like 50m to a sprinter running at near-light speed, but the people watching him in the audience would contend that he traveled the full 100m. Effectively, the interstellar sprinter’s time has to “slow down” to preserve the space-time continuum. Light travels at a constant speed anywhere in the universe, so both length and time shift when extremely fast objects streak across space.

While part of me wrote that last paragraph hoping to understand a topic that still baffles me, the humanities student within finds the symbolism of time dilation hilariously bittersweet. When the velocity of my Groton life peaks, my day feels like it’s twenty-four hours long. Then, I leave campus and BOOM, a trimester has passed by. How does that even happen? I guess time flies when you’re having fun, but I have no doubt that the rigor of the daily schedule also contributes to that trend.

It’s easy to call this spring “the end of a chapter,” but that perspective is a glass-is-half-full interpretation; the truth is that I’m going to miss this place a lot. To any prospective or incoming students reading this piece, I offer you a piece of advice that only takes an imminent departure to understand: don’t live your life in the time or space ahead, but maximize your presence in the present. To quote a line from Ferris Bueller that Thomas Dempsey ’21 recently referenced in his chapel talk: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”