By Brooke Schultz
Currently adorning the wall behind my desk are two things of particular interest: a shoddy attempt at calligraphy on a canvas that displays the quote, “There’s no sex in brains,” and a poster that I’d pried off one of the glass panels in Hodson sometime last year when campus was particularly quiet.
Both relate to Sophie Kerr, the subject of my senior thesis. Both of which I’m stoked about.
For years, mystery and misery seemed to surround this so-called Senior Capstone Experience, but it always seemed too far away to fully grasp. I figured it was a bit like my term paper in high school, which I’d considered to be a nightmare and therefore feared the idea of a bigger, badder version.
Early into college, a friend had confided in me, though, that it really wasn’t that bad.
“I just complain because everyone before me has complained,” she said.
I watched friends go through it last year and seemingly make it out unscathed, though my Writing Center job introduced me to more anxious moments. At the least, it seemed burdensome — something that would absorb my time and deplete my energies.
During my interview this week with Dr. Miranda Altman from Counseling Services for a separate story, we discussed dealing with stress and managing mental health throughout the academic year and the Capstone surfaced. With good reason, it’s a significant cause of distress for seniors.
I’d told her then that I was excited to write mine, which surprised even me.
She asked me to think about it as it really was: just a really big paper. The language is what makes it so daunting. If we break it apart, each of the words do sound weighted: Senior — according to the OED, “That ranks before others in virtue of longer service or tenure of a position; superior to others in standing.” Capstone — “A stone which caps or crowns.” Experience — “The action of putting to the test; trial.” Each word communicates a significant sum: someone, at the end of their college career and the height of their education thus far, is to write the paper of all papers (project of all projects, play of all plays, etc.) that puts everything they’ve learned to the test.
It seems like a lot. It is a lot. But it can be exciting, too.
All junior year, I’d been anxious about what I’d be doing. It felt like my friends — though in various other majors — had their topics lined up and were set on their work. I’d scribble down half-formed ideas on the margins of notebook paper in class when something struck a chord, but nothing thrilled me. And if I’m going to write 25 pages about it, I want it to thrill me.
For one of my classes, on a whim, I decided to do my presentation on Kerr having never read a piece of her work before. I ended up enjoying it. Fascinating to me, too, was the fact there had been no real critical evaluation of her work, despite the fact Washington College has the largest undergraduate literary prize, as we tout, because of her. Suddenly, it was very obvious that my project was going to be about her and the stress of finding a topic just disappeared. As have most of my thesis worries, to be honest: The thesis is just a culmination of everything we’ve learned so far in our respective departments. A last chance to show off.
“You can bring together all the experience of the major with the depth and richness in the Capstone because you got to this point,” Dr. Altman said of it last week.
I write this, before even penning a page of my thesis and having only scratched the surface of the research I’ll be doing, as an attempt to cancel out the negativity in the process of completing it because it’s an incredible opportunity to open dialogue about a writer who has fallen from the literary canon. It’s also the last significant thing I’ll write as an undergrad and, possibly, as a student. So it can’t be all bad. But… check back in April.