Senior Seminar is a course offered to seniors who want to narrow their focus and deepen their knowledge in history and literature. It has been running for two years. Students take this course in the fall, as an 80-minute class in which they dedicate their time to learn, research, and develop their writing skills for their project. After students finish their research, they are expected to turn it into a 25-page paper. In the spring, the class time shifts from an 80-minute class to a 201 block during Lab Day. During this time, students make their final edits on their papers and prepare for their final presentations in May. This is how a standard Senior Seminar course would work any other year. Classes, however, have shifted due to COVID-19. Thankfully, the seniors were able to have a full fall semester to develop their writing skills and begin their research. Dr. Nathan, for history, and Ms. Melnyk, for English, have been this year’s head teachers for this course.
What is great about Senior Seminar is that it allows students to be really creative throughout the entire process; each student is able to choose what they would like to research and how they will go about their projects. No student chooses the same project; they may be similar, but each individual project is unique in their own way. As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, I asked rising seniors who have requested to be in Senior Seminar about their thought processes for choosing their respective topics.
Brett Borthwick ‘20 said, “I absolutely loved Senior Seminar. What made me want to take the class in the first place is sort of a very long story that relates to my mother’s exploration of shamanism and kind of seemingly crazy spiritual stuff like that. I had a realization at the end of 10th grade that I was absolutely fascinated by consciousness. I’ve always been sort of more STEM inclined because I also love to write and research. The way I saw it, this course would allow me to delve into all my interests with very little constraint. My topic ultimately was not historical, besides the argument that “if anything happens, it’s history.” Senior Seminar was not easy by any means, but it was immensely rewarding.”
Yarelis Nunez ‘20 said, “ I was interested in the idea of doing an independent project. I wanted to go into more depth about a topic that isn’t thoroughly taught in schools. My project was about Afro-Caribbean religions (Santería and Vodou) and how they journeyed from Africa to the Caribbean and into the US was all very similar and had strengthened the meaning of what the religions mean to people, especially Caribbean-Americans. At some points, I definitely thought about quitting but after seeing my 30+ page paper, I was very proud of myself not only for writing that much but for researching a topic that was interesting to me specifically and that I had been curious about for many years.”
Casey Donnelly ‘20 added, “I thought it was the perfect opportunity to center my reading around queer women of color and refine my writing before going into college. I was really excited going into the summer and my motivation to write my paper was consistent because I knew how significant, powerful, and relevant Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldua continue to be. It was definitely worth it because it was quite challenging yet very rewarding. It was a great course to prepare students for college-level writing and thinking, which is part of why I wanted to take it. I was very proud of my work once I was done and was able to improve my writing and build better relationships in the class as well. Also, I was able to delve into books I’d read for fun in a class and flesh out my critical thoughts on the experiences of queer women of color for the first time.”
These examples demonstrate the variety of projects that students take on. Many people see Senior Seminar as just a class for seniors who are interested in history or English, however Brett, Yarelis, and Casey prove that this class offers more than that. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity at Grace.
We also asked graduating seniors Brett, Yarelis, and Casey to give some advice to rising seniors.
Brett Borthwick ‘20 noted, “The biggest piece of advice I can give the rising Senior Seminar scholars is to pick a topic that keeps you up at night; something that you think about and then can’t quiet your mind because you have too many questions. If you do that, you’ll never be bored. My project is proof that you can use this opportunity to investigate literally anything.”
Yarelis Nunez ‘20 suggested, “I would say, make sure to have a clear idea about what you want to write. It doesn’t have to be perfect or completely drawn out, but having an idea of what you want to write and what you want people to get from it is always helpful. It will help you narrow down what exactly you are researching and give you more space to delve deep into what you want to talk about.”
Casey Donnelly ‘20 wrote, “I would recommend reading most of the books over the summer to have a clearer vision of what your paper could be about before starting the school year. Also, it is very easy to be unmotivated during the writing process, so I think it’s important to constantly remind yourself why you wanted to write the paper and how passionate you are about the topic you chose.”
Senior Seminar pushes students to grow as writers, researchers, and critical thinkers. It is a very independent project where-in the student has full control over their own project. This allows for each project to become more personal, and therefore purposeful in allowing each students’ own thoughts and beliefs to take shape. We interviewed three juniors to see which section they will take [either history or english] and their thought process behind it.
Christian Grandelli ‘21 wrote, “I took the course because English has always been my favorite class, and the ability to choose my own curriculum was something that sounded really interesting to me. I’m choosing to write about Utopian and Dystopian literature. I took a class this year that revolved around it with Dr. Schmidt, and I wanted to continue reading famous authors and see how they differently depict utopias and dystopias.”
Haley Wilkins ‘21 said, “I decided to apply for Senior Seminar in Literature because I am interested in studying something in the humanities department in college and thought this was a great opportunity to gain experience in independent inquiry and create a substantial piece of writing. In addition, it was an opportunity to have control over what type of literature I was reading. For my project, I will study the role of cultural identities in coming of age novels. I read works of fiction with those themes this semester in my Short Story course with Ms.Wood and I knew I wanted to explore them more.”
Olivia Ibietatorremendia ‘21 explained, “ I wanted to take Senior Seminar for two reasons. The first is that I’m really interested in learning more about the history of Latin America and the injustices people face there. When it comes to world history, it’s an especially lost topic in the United States. The second reason is that I want to be challenged in the highest level of history that I can take. I was interested in learning how to write a 25-page paper, so I wanted to seize the opportunity to take Senior Seminar. I think it’ll provide a really good challenge for me that I’m excited for. My topic is loosely going to be about colorism and hair texture within Latin America and its roots to eurocentric standards of beauty and imperialism.”
What makes Grace so unique compared to other schools is the opportunities offered to us. From Senior Seminar to art majors, every student can make their Grace experience so fulfilling. Senior Seminar is just one unique course that has opened student’s eyes to a whole new perspective on the world.