The 254 seniors who completed their honors theses for the spring 2022 semester submitted their final projects on Thursday, April 14. The theses submissions were accompanied by the University’s traditional champagne popping ceremony, which took place on the steps of Olin Library at the thesis submission deadline of 4 p.m. Academic departments are now reviewing theses and will return their honors recommendations on Thursday, April 28.
Though not mandatory for all students, honors theses, which can be range from academic analysis to creative, personal, or interpretive writing, are required to receive departmental honors for many fields of study. Senior theses are designed for students to delve deep into specific projects, topics, and themes in their respective academic major or majors and other fields of interest.
“It’s probably the first fully independent piece of scholarship a student will undertake,” Senior Associate Registrar Susan Krajewski said. “It’s mentored by a faculty member at Wesleyan, but it’s really a self-directed piece…. The students really have to first find if they have a topic they have a passion for [which is] going to capture their attention for a full year and make them want to invest [in] because it’s so personally directed, with your faculty mentor or assisting you along the way.”
Senior theses can take several forms and provide gateways to exploring individual passions and interests. For Theater and American Studies double major Esmé Ng ’22, the thesis writing process offered an opportunity to examine their familial history by writing a play. Ng wrote an original play exploring the complexities of family lineage, along with an accompanying essay that delved into the tradition of Asian-American literary heritage.
“I really wanted to explore my family history while also exploring what it meant to put it in a play,” Ng said. “I consider it introspective, like internal historical investigation and introspection. And then, there’s the consideration of what it means to make it public-facing. That’s what’s been really guiding my process.”
While Ng’s thesis delved into their family history through theater and accompanying literature, Margaret Fitch ’22 crafted a thesis around her own experiences related to performance anxiety.
“My thesis is about music performance anxiety,” Fitch wrote in an email to The Argus. “It was inspired by my own experience as a musician with performance anxiety, and it combines scholarly analysis and writing with personal anecdotes.”
Krajewski highlighted the diversity of University theses.
“I really love the flexibility and how we provide so many actions for students and try to give them clear guidance along the way,” Krajewski said. “Most students who I’ve heard from said that it’s the most rewarding thing they’ve ever done in their four years here, so that’s kind of a cool thing to be a part of.”
The thesis process begins with a proposal. Students intending to write a thesis for their major(s) must submit their proposal to their respective departments. On the other hand, those in the University major or intending to write interdisciplinary theses send their proposals to the registrar. To be considered for Honors in General Scholarship, students must submit their thesis topic to the Honors Committee in the semester before their senior year. To be eligible for this application, students must meet certain prerequisites, which can vary by department, such as a grade point average requirement and general education expectations.
While the thesis application requires several components, students can shift their topic as they progress in the process. For example, Ng’s original idea for their proposal saw a shift in topic over time. The historical fiction transformed into a play-within-a-play format which freed them up to further explore the relationship between narrative histories and family bonds.
“Whenever I get into a place of writer’s block and when I don’t know where I want to go next, I try to pick the craziest thing that I can do and just start writing a new play from there,” Ng said. “So, for this, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m at this point in the story, I have no idea where it’s going to go from here. What if I just revealed that this was a play within a play?’”
For Fitch, this process of self-direction was central to completing the project.
“I’d describe it as the first real self-guided, long-term project that most of us (certainly me) have ever done,” Fitch wrote. “I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it; writing can be stressful for me, and I know how much anxiety theses can cause some people, but I really enjoyed most of the process.”
The thesis process concluded on April 14 with the champagne popping ceremony, a University tradition where thesis writers commemorate the conclusion of their projects with other students in a fun, celebratory environment. After having worked through the night to finish their thesis before the deadline, Ng welcomed the long-awaited champagne popping moment with open arms.
“Getting to celebrate outside of Olin, it was such a beautiful moment,” Ng said. “I had been dreaming of doing my champagne up forever, it was super cool. I was at the champagne pop and I just kept running into people who were like, ‘Esmé, congrats! You finished it!’ And I was like, ‘I forgot that I talked to you about this! I was surprised you remembered I was writing a thesis, but thank you for that!’ And that was really cool, that was really sweet.”
For Fitch, the cathartic release of popping her champagne bottle was a completely unique experience.
“The experience of being on the Olin steps wasn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced before, and probably ever will again,” Fitch wrote. “Everyone was just so elated. Also it turns out champagne is really sticky.”
As the writing period is over and evaluation has begun, Ng resolved to remain proud of their work outside of any institutional guidelines or awards.
“It doesn’t even matter whether it gets honors or not,” Ng said. “This is a piece of writing that I intellectually own…. It’s my call and that is very freeing and exciting.”
President Michael Roth ’78 emphasized the importance of celebrating this moment and all the hard work that led up to it for everyone involved.
“I know from working with students over the years on theses, they work so hard,” Roth said. “And when it comes together like that…you really feel a sense of achievement and sometimes relief that it’s behind you. I think it’s a great thing.”
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