Working with a faculty or staff advisor, each senior writes an in-depth, 10-15 page paper on a topic of her choosing, studied and researched from an interdisciplinary perspective. She then presents her thesis to the whole school in a formal presentation.
40 theses have been written this year, covering a broad range of fascinating subjects and perspectives. Topics from this year’s batch of theses include:
Comparing Benjamin Franklin’s notion of the American Dream with the way it’s portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
The redemptive nature of suffering, using Crime and Punishment, The Hiding Place, and a podcast about survivors of the Bataan Death March as sources
The Internet’s effects on culture compared with with the effects of World Wars I and II on culture
The different approaches and goals of a Western classical education and a South Korean education
An examination of the epidemic of loneliness and how communion is essential to human flourishing
English Master Teacher Lisa Kenna introduced the senior thesis to the curriculum in 2012. “One of its main goals is to increase the students’ ability to continue learning through life, sparking an intellectual curiosity, which is the best preparation for whatever work they may be called upon to do,” Lisa explains.
The thesis is both a challenging and dynamic process, one in which each student hones her skills in research and persuasive writing. It requires intense organization and planning, and students build on the basics of explication, analysis and synthesis they’ve learned over the years. At the beginning of the thesis process, each student picks her topic and is assigned an advisor who meets with her one-on-one and guides her through the project. The advisor is a member of the Oakcrest faculty or staff who has interest or expertise in the subject the senior is writing on. She helps with everything from acting as a sounding board for ideas to reviewing a student’s rough drafts.
Each student submits an annotated bibliography (listing her sources and explaining why she chose those particular ones) and creates a formal outline to make sure her paper proceeds in a logical fashion. After writing and submitting a rough draft, she turns in the final paper in May. All students then share what they’ve discovered in the course of their reading and writing in formal 8-10 minute presentations.
Oakies find that the skills they developed while working on their theses still serve them well post-graduation. Alumna Sophia Dort (‘18) notes, “In college (and beyond), papers will be longer and more complex, and I have found my experience with the thesis to be an invaluable tool in writing research, analytical, and other papers for college.”
As for students who have yet to tackle the thesis? It’s something to start thinking about and looking forward to now. Junior Falan Kifle knows how much work goes into it, but she’s still eager to really take ownership of this final academic project. “I’m really excited to write and present about a topic I’m passionate about and be in full control of the project,” she says.
Caeli Beckert, who teaches twelfth grade English and has been working closely with seniors on their theses, would agree with Falan’s enthusiasm about the thesis and the remarkable opportunity it presents. “It’s a privilege to be listened to, to be heard, to read, study and write and then have that work acknowledged by an audience,” she says. “It’s about affirming a student and her work and giving her an opportunity to publish it, in a way.”
Learn more about Oakcrest's unique academic experience here