On the Campus - March 22, 2000

Seizing the day when your thesis has you in a grip

What seniors do when they realize they have only one semester left

by Katherine Zoepf '00

In one of the first envelopes of material I received from Princeton after getting Dean Hargadon's trademark "YES!" letter, I remember reading part of the text of a speech, given decades back at a Princeton graduation. "This is the last of your springs," it intoned.

I've never much liked the "gather ye rosebuds while ye may" theme and, at 17, the idea that my four years at Princeton were to be some sort of metaphorical last spring of youth struck me as singularly depressing.

But now that my last spring here is literally upon me I, along with the 1,120 other Princeton seniors, have begun to think about gathering those rosebuds.

It's a strange time, this last spring of ours. There are big decisions to be made, there's a thesis to write, and there's a growing obsession with "our last (fill in the blank)." And most seniors agree with Cecilia Livesey '00, a history major, who says, "Your thesis ends up being all-consuming."

Though the thesis is all-consuming, many seniors are evidently tapping into their creative selves, as revealed in their choice of classes.

Students who have finished dutifully plodding through their premed requirements sign into dance classes. Engineers take literature classes, economics majors head for the art history department, and nearly everyone tries to squeeze in a photography or a ceramics course.

Not everyone can, unfortunately. As departmental secretary for Visual Arts, Theater, and Creative Writing programs, Charlotte Lawson often hears the laments of students who have not been admitted to the creative outlet of their dreams: "'But it's my last semester here, and I've always wanted to take this before I graduate!' I do hear that a lot, about photography especially."

"I'm using my last semester here to take two creative writing classes," says Brian Bennett '00, who is enrolled in Jonathan Galassi's literary translation class, as well as John McPhee '53's famous "Literature of Fact" seminar.

"It's been eye-opening in that we're being asked to think rigorously about how to structure a piece," says Bennett of McPhee's seminar. "He's very inspiring, though his style is subdued. It's a class I've always wanted to take, and wanted to take during second semester of senior year."

"Seniors know they'll be stressed," says Julia Boorstin '00. "Everyone wants to either take something that they think will be useful for the future, or something they've just always wanted to take."

Especially dreaded are leftover distribution requirements, or the departmental courses you just couldn't manage to take in earlier semesters.

"I had really hoped to take an art history class before I graduated, but I ended up realizing that I had to take another departmental," says Emily Tepe, a senior in the music department. "Luckily I found a grad seminar I was interested in taking, but finishing my premed requirements as well is making this semester a logistical nightmare."

"I wish I could take more fun classes, but there just isn't enough time. My thesis is the bane of my existence right now," says Alisha Mody '00. "I think that lots of people just want an easy ride senior spring, and some of them figure they'll get their $17,000 worth one last time, and take something really interesting."

Ian Shapira is using his last semester to take Assistant Dean of the College Marcia Cantarella's course "The Big Money: America's Ambivalence about Wealth."

"It's one of those really idea-driven courses," says Shapira. "And it's very current. With all the dot-coms starting up, people are making piles of money, and this course helps make some sense of what the booming economy marks in our history. The class offers some ideas about what money means and how you can feel conflicted about it. It's a good way to end Princeton, I have to say. As a senior, it really helps put some things in perspective."

Katherine Zoepf can be reached at kezoepf@ princeton.edu.

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