Revisiting the Senior Thesis (Reflections from a Member of the Class of 2011)
The following entry is guest authored by Kelsey Niichel, Class of 2011.
Since graduating from Ridgeview, it has come as a surprise to me to see how many people live an “unexamined life,” as Socrates would call it. Much of my interaction with my fellow man has been superficial, at best, which has left me sometimes wondering if the Senior Thesis really does matter. In revisiting my own presentation, I have come to the conclusion that yes, it still does.
As a senior, the question posed, “what is the good life?” not only forced our young minds to wrestle with moral issues, but relationships, spirituality, and other dimensions of the human experience. My thesis was centered around a constant interplay between good and evil, the desire to do what is right versus the desire to do what is easy. I hypothesized that man really has two natures that are constantly at war, much like Jekyll and Hyde or Gollum and Smeagol (the two examples that I drew most heavily upon). The achievement of the good life, for me, was found in chasing the “right” option, choosing the moral high ground, when it presented itself, and in continuing to do so as to make it a lifelong habit. While this seems easy in theory, my own personal experiences show that it is not so. I have, since graduation, experienced dark periods in my life, both emotionally and morally. I subsequently had to make a conscious decision to stop choosing what was easy or what felt good, and to choose what was the absolute good. I specifically remember my parents referencing my thesis when I would do something particularly wrong or bad.
The strengths of my personal thesis can be found when presented with a moral challenge, but it had left me woefully unprepared to deal with adult relationships, or other aspects of modern life such as money or career building. I do believe though, that by allowing students on the brink of adulthood to answer these questions of morality, it allows them to build an identity that will carry through to other aspects of their lives. They have examples of healthy and unhealthy human interaction within the books they read, and ultimately they have the freedom to act however they choose and face the consequences of those actions. This freedom gives the Ridgeview student a depth of character that is not often found elsewhere.
This freedom also allows the student to amend their thesis, footnote it, if you will, when they are faced with certain challenges or scenarios. Herein lies the virtue of presenting the thesis to a hungry audience. One of the most difficult questions that I have had to grapple with, both during my presentation and as an individual is the measure of what is right and wrong and to whom can we look for examples. I was challenged to define a higher power that helps us determine. Some look to moral philosophy, while others look to religion and spirituality. I recently had an interaction with a philosophy student (not a Ridgeview graduate) that centered around this question, and I was pleased to find that my musings during the process of writing this thesis resurfaced. While I still hold that there are absolutes, I would venture to say that there is much more gray area in the field of morality than I previously thought. The relevance of my thesis though has come through again recently as I begin my career in medicine, and will be forced to deal with ethical dilemmas that have lasting consequences.
In conclusion, and in speaking to the students directly, the thesis still matters because it allows you two main advantages over the general population. First, it allows you to examine yourselves in a way that is often forgotten. You have this opportunity to define for yourselves what is beautiful, right and true. It allows you to become an individual. Secondly, it allows for personal growth. As a senior, you have these examples of how to act and how not to act, and yet ultimately the choice is yours. You will come across situations for which you have no answer. You will have questions posed to you to which you cannot answer. In the face of this uncertainty, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Don’t be afraid of not having the answers. Ridgeview’s senior thesis gives you a foundation for your beliefs, and it is just that - a foundation. Not the entirety of your life, not the entirety of human experience. You will learn and grow through personal experience just as much, if not more so, than you have in the halls of Ridgeview. However, the foundation is the most important part of a house, and your educational foundation serves as the most important beginning to life as a thoughtful, moral, engaged adult. This foundation is why the senior thesis still matters.