This year our community will gather to celebrate the 6th Annual GAR Senior Project Festival. Over the course of two nights, more than one-third of the class of 2013 will present their individual projects. In most schools, seniors are required to do a project and frequently projects are a stopgap measure to occupy rather than inspire seniors in the spring, following AP exams. At Roeper we take a different approach. Roeper seniors choose to explore an idea or concept deeply and consider their projects a capstone experience–without it, their Roeper education would be incomplete. Some spend a semester, others a full year exploring and developing their project around central questions that are theirs alone. Projects range from one-act plays to one hundred-page history papers. Students build and design; they organize and strategize; they create and inspire–mostly they persevere on a journey that is uncharted because it is theirs alone. What impresses me every year about these students is that they are unafraid, or at least they put their fears aside.
Over the last six years I have watched as our scientists became wood workers, our community activists built boats, our athletes created music and film, and our artists wrote novellas and challenged social convention. These students take a leap of faith. They take a risk to say, “This idea and these questions are important to me. I want to take this journey—I will build my own road map.”
Last weekend, while attending Lauren Walkiewicz’s senior art show at the University of Michigan, I saw a number of Roeper alums. When I asked what their senior projects had meant for them, Tom Hickey, who went on to win the Hopwood Award at Michigan last year said, “Doing my project gave me confidence to take on the next project.” He also observed, “And participating in the festival wasn’t even about my project. It was being a part of a night where Ali VanOverbeeke did a fashion show and Ned Baker presented an original play based on Edgar Allen Poe. Then we went upstairs to eat great food prepared by David Lauer while admiring artwork by Nick Hurwitz-Goodwin. We were all in it together.”
For some students, these projects mark the beginnings of what may be their life’s work. Jake Mickley (2008) is pursuing a career as an elementary school teacher. Carter “Cartier” Sims (2010) is finding increasing success in the world of video and music. Liam Kirby (2009) continues to push the bounds of the art world and to do what his professors describe as “doctorate level work” at the University of Toronto while his sister Emma (2012) is recognized as one of the most outstanding writers at Sara Lawrence College. For others like Andrew Romano (2011), the project was a chance to learn something new and to follow an interest and passion outside his everyday school experience.
Ultimately, we want our graduates to make the most of their gifts, to be unfettered, and to participate positively in the larger community. Senior Projects allow our students to practice the skills they will need to pursue a full life beyond school. Building confidence and camaraderie are at the center of a Roeper education, and when you attend the GAR Festival of Senior Projects you leave energized and filled with hope—our students are inspiring!