My Senior Thesis

The following was a sample column submitted with my application to be a columnist for Notre Dame’s student newspaper, The Observer. 

In the Spring of 2011, if one were to wander to the 13th floor of the library in the middle of the night, one might have found a pretentious-looking sophomore, crammed into a desk with thirty books, a 6-inch spicy Italian, and a Starbucks double shot. One might come across post-it notes on the back of his desk, bearing a correspondence between this student and the library’s cleaning staff. One note would say something like, “Don’t worry about leaving the books here. Good luck on finals!” It was a lovely correspondence—something characteristic of much of the staff of the University of Notre Dame. She agreed to not re-shelve the books until he was done with his paper.

For two weeks, this desk became home as I, the geeky sophomore, frantically typed my last paper of the semester. In the end, a ten thousand word, thirty-seven page essay emerged, chronicling the philosophical development of Notre Dame’s Program of Liberal Studies. I emerged from my caffeinated, square-eyed stupor, and I claimed victory over the ability to write quickly, just as students of the Program rightfully claim victory over the ability to read quickly.

Notre Dame students are made to achieve great things. Some become Oreo- stacking champions before graduating high school. Some compete in the Olympics before the age of twenty-one. I wrote a senior thesis as a sophomore, and not only this. I taught a Teaching Assistant a very valuable lesson—when assigning papers, always give a maximum length. I had reached the height of intellectual achievement. Now I only had to maintain my abilities, and I was sure to gain lifelong success.

I now look back on this great achievement, and I… well, I don’t read it. I have many shorter and more interesting papers to reminisce with, like a paper I completed in Rome last spring. It was an embarrassing 1500 words, only 7 pages long, including the title page and the separate dedicatory page. We were asked to write about a monument in Rome and its relation to culture. I wrote about a kitchen. The paper recounts my time cooking and cleaning and talking with friends. The first paragraph ends with two sentences perhaps unworthy of serious academic work: “I never expected to walk into a fifteen-by-ten-foot room and find within it a city, a country, a culture. I never expected to fall in love in a kitchen.” This paper seems so unworthy of my time at a prestigious research university.

It is a paper small in every way, and it stands in sharp contrast to every paper I had written for every other class. Rather than frantically expanding length, I slowly sought depth. Rather than pretentiously adding pages, I deliberately placed words. Rather than glorying in each page, I savored each letter. In researching, I did not read book after book, in search of vast information. I read word after word, in search of every meaning. In this way I learned to read. In this way I learned to write.

Now, I cannot write a senior thesis. I cannot lie to myself and justify impatiently throwing together sentences, trying to write forty pages in a short year. Even now I must apologize for, at times, being careless in my placement of words in this brief essay. I wish I could say I have pondered each letter and loved it, but I cannot lie to my readers. I must be honest.

I must admit that this column is very much like a senior thesis. Like a senior thesis, it will not much aid my application for graduate school. Neither would be an appropriate length for a writing sample, and both would be inappropriate for personal statements. Like a senior thesis, it was written with a kind of deadline, a deadline I would endlessly extend if I could. Like a senior thesis, I doubt anyone will want to read it after I graduate. I doubt anyone will want to read it after next week.

However, I do wish to help the Arts & Letters College achieve its major goal “to develop a more vibrant senior thesis culture at Notre Dame.” I will aid this goal by writing quickly and close to my deadline. I shall call this essay “My Senior Thesis.”

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