Each winter, all Kingswood Oxford seniors embark on an exciting, challenging and meaningful journey – the writing a scholarly thesis. Under the guidance of an English teacher, each senior chooses a topic based on a literary work or works, explores and researches academic criticism related to those works, and then writes a 15- to 20-page paper that draws on these literary texts, academic scholarship and the student’s own insights.
Demanding both persistence and passion, the senior thesis is the culmination of each student’s academic experience at Kingswood Oxford. It allows seniors to bring together everything they’ve learned about research, organization, literary analysis, and writing to focus on an author, literary work or theme they love.
Recent thesis topics have ranged from “Shakespeare’s Manipulation of Conscience in Richard III and Macbeth” to “The Rise and Fall of Religious Fundamentalism in Gish Jen’s World and Town and Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood,” to “Comparing the Transition to Adulthood in The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
KO’s thesis program has drawn national recognition. During the past two years, Benjamin Waldman ’16 and Noah Stanton ’17 each won the top award (a $5,000 scholarship) when their senior theses were judged to be the best student research papers in the nation by the National Cum Laude Society.
Producing a senior thesis is a rigorous, three-month process that offers students the opportunity to gain and develop a variety of academic and personal skills:
Seniors are given wide latitude in selecting their topics, but with this freedom comes the challenge of choosing a writer, book or idea that engages them and then refining and shaping their subject to produce a clear and manageable area of focus.
While some seniors have known what they wanted to write about ever since they were freshmen, most students find they need to change or revise their topics several times – a necessary and instructive part of the process.
As they begin to assemble and take notes on primary and secondary sources during late January, seniors immerse themselves in the rigorous demands of scholarly research. They learn how to perform the academic spadework necessary to identify, evaluate and assemble evidence. Such preliminary work, conducted weeks before the writing process begins, requires persistence and patience.
• Exposure to Literary Scholarship
For many seniors, the senior thesis provides their first opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of literary criticism. By reading books and journal articles by professors and scholars, they’re exposed to textual analysis, contrasting viewpoints, and a variety of literary theories. They gain confidence by immersing themselves in this provocative academic conversation.
• Synthesizing, Writing and Revising
After formulating a thesis and constructing an outline, seniors craft a rough draft that supports their views clearly, persuasively and eloquently. They learn how to annotate their text to indicate their sources and to edit and revise their prose, not only as they compose the paper, but also as they respond the teacher’s comments and suggestions on their rough drafts.
• A Sense of Accomplishment
After revising their final drafts, seniors make oral presentations of their theses to their classmates, thus sharing with their peers the intellectual stimulation they’ve derived from the entire process and their sense of accomplishments in perfecting a finished product that reflects their best work.