Thoughtful theses win awards


On May 9, English Department Chair Meg Kasprak announced the four winners of the senior thesis awards. The winners were Natalie Eckert, Apara Kashyap, Emma Smith, and Phoebe Taylor.

At the beginning of the third quarter, seniors embarked on their senior thesis in which they explored a literary area of interest, came up with an original thesis, and wrote a 15 to 20 page paper. To determine the winners, all of the English teachers that teach senior thesis read the recommended theses by each teacher. And then they voted on those anonymous theses.

The criteria for a successful thesis contains seven characteristics. It must be: elegantly crafted and polished, original, well-developed and finished, drawn from a sufficiently broad variety of secondary source material, fun to read, reflective of the students’ sincere connection to the literary material and the investigation, and correctly cited.

Emma, Apara, and Natalie said that they were surprised that they won. Emma said that she didn’t even know that the awards existed. She said that she was impressed with the works of other people. “Their theses seem really sophisticated and I am really proud of them,” she said.

Natalie said that she totally didn’t expect to win because there were a lot of talented writers. Apara said that she loved hearing about what everyone wrote; she said that a lot of people worked really hard and produced interesting papers.

Mrs. Kasprak said that she thought a good thesis would be exciting for people to read, well written, and say something new and fresh. She said that she advised people to choose their topic wisely and to start early. “The earlier you start, the happier you will be,” Mrs. Kasprak said.

Both Natalie and Apara stressed that it was really important for them to write about something that they liked. “Write about something you like, or otherwise you would be stuck with it for a long time, and it would be terrible,” said Apara. She said that she knew what two texts she wanted to use — “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel and “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen — from the very beginning so she reread both of them and found interesting parallels between them.

Apara said that she explored how both “Fun Home” and “A Doll’s House,” though in different forms — one is a graphic memoir while the other one is a play — expressed the way male characters in the lives of the main female characters prevented the latter from finding home and presented the complications that the female characters faced in their self-discoveries.

Emma took a similar approach. She said that she wrote down six of her favorite books and themes and tried to connect them. She wrote about how “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut and “A Death Foretold” by Gabriel García Márquez used similar time characterizations to convey a similar assertion – withdrawing from time doesn’t work and that people should take more active responsibility. Emma said that writing the senior thesis was initially overwhelming, but to have English teachers structure the process helped her to stay on track. Natalie said that the structure made her writing process smooth and easy.

Apara agreed that the teachers were extremely supportive throughout the process. She said that the seniors devoted eight weeks to writing the thesis, but most of the actual writing was done in two weeks.She said that the first three weeks were spent on researching, and the last two weeks were to revise the thesis. Apara said that her detailed outlines made it easier for her to write as it broke down a giant paper into more manageable chunks.

Mrs. Kasprak said that grading the senior theses was like running a marathon.
“It was the hardest thing I do all year round,” she said. She added that the senior thesis is valuable as it is good preparation for college, as most seniors haven’t written that much in their high school career. “It involves literary researching, the students’ own understanding, and integrating the texts to pursue some idea of their own choice,” Mrs. Kasprak said, “and it’s not just about English; students would need to do those things in any other subject.”

Apara expressed similar views. She said that writing such a long paper helped her prepare for writing at the next level. She said that she worked hardest and longest for this paper. Emma said that it was very satisfying for her to see her final draft.

Natalie said that she really enjoyed writing the senior thesis as she loves English in general and loved the book that she was writing about. She also added that it was cool to pick her own topic, and she said that writing the senior thesis is a similar process as that of other writing assignments within the English curriculum at KO. “It is a combination of everything you learned in English,” Natalie said, “and it prepares you for college.”

Ms. Kasprak went on to say that the senior thesis provides an opportunity for students to rediscover writing, and to learn that they can use writing as a way to explore their interests. “Not everybody in this world is an English major,” she said, “but for some, the freedom to write about what they are interested in changes their minds about writing and makes them appreciate writing more.”