Senior Sentiments

Coming into my final year at Haverford, I anticipated feeling a bit of denial and overwhelming nostalgia. While not an untrue statement, the transition to this transitional year has been smooth and natural. Dare I say it? I’m relishing being a senior and the productive, exciting opportunities it affords.

My thesis proposal is in, approved, and awaiting remarks from my newly minted thesis adviser. I’m going to be working with Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger and exploring construction of character through geographic and mental spaces, as well as time and memory. This thesis topic draws on my established interests in perspectivalism and temporality, and allows me to reflect further on theories of identity in relationship to place, which I cultivated during my extensive travels during my semester abroad. The senior thesis experience is a space for culmination and reflection, as well looking forward within the discipline. Continue reading

Journey Through The Mid-Atlantic

My thesis project examines Bayard Rustin, perhaps most notable for serving as the deputy director of the 1963 March on Washington. Yet, he led a lifelong commitment to civil and human rights in America and abroad. A pacifist, Rustin modeled nonviolent action (as a reflection of his belief in Gandhian principle) as a means to bring about social change. Raised by his Quaker grandmother, Rustin went on to become a Friend* himself. Scholarly discourse regards Rustin primarily for his Civil Rights era contributions, leaving his lifelong career largely unexamined. That is, aside from biographical texts and collections of his writings. I remain interested in how his Quaker background influenced his commitment to and actions toward social justice in America and abroad.

Mary Poppins might say, "Feed the birds!"

Having poured through the seminal and subsequent Rustin biographies, I decided that I would take advantage of my prime location in the Philadelphia region to travel to Washington D.C., where the Library of Congress holds the Bayard Rustin papers, a vast collection of Rustin’s speeches, letters, memos, photographs, and other materials. The first half of this blog post I wrote while in the Madison Reading Room. Now, I write to you from Union Station’s Starbucks (with the bar seating, that is!) where I have begun chugging a dirty vanilla chai to renew a bit of my energy.

To recap, I departed Tritton Hall, where I live on campus this year, at 6:30am. Before heading to the Haverford train station an 8 minute walk away (if you’re speed walking), I swung by Bruegger’s bagels to devour a rosemary olive oil bagel. A DC (Dining Center) banana proved to be a nice snack on the 20-minute train ride to 30th street station where I quickly made my way to the MegaBus departure location. The 3-hour bus ride was the perfect time to read a short story (and watch its film adaptation) for my Japanese Literature and Film course before taking a half-hour nap. Surprisingly, Google Maps led me in the appropriate direction to the Library of Congress building, at which point I went on a wild goose chase to receive researcher authorization from several bureaucratic centers. In the end, I was able to spend 4.5 solid hours in the reading room with a cornucopia of Rustin papers, some of which will be invaluable to the future of my thesis.
Now an hour away from Philadelphia, I think I’ll make this post final. Here’s a photograph I captured of Union Station as I made my way back from the Library of Congress. How nice the 58 degree weather (F) was!

As Night Consumes Union Station



Closing Time…

This song has been in my head recently. So many perfect lines: Time for you to go out into the world. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. It seems somehow all too fitting for the end of college. (I won’t even get into “It’s the End of the World As We Know It“, which is also true).

So it’s been quite the few weeks since I last wrote. I’m sorry for my absence, but maybe after reading, you’ll choose to forgive me. Here are some of the highlights that I can remember right now:

  • -The Librarian of the College cleaned my clock in our all-school skeeball tournament. (Well, she scored a 300 and I got a 250).
  • I turned in my thesis on April 20. It finished at 33,000 words and 114 pages.

The finished product!

This was the largest reason that I wasn’t capable of doing anything else. It was a huge project and I’m very proud of how it turned out, but sometimes it felt as physically exhausting as the runs I did to take a break from writing!

  • During one of those frantic I-need-a-break-from-writing runs, I completed my fastest loop of campus (1.7 miles in 13:50 for a sub-8:00 mile pace).
  • I attended my last college class (math, fittingly enough) and handed in my last college assignment (a political science paper, of course).
  • My friends and I rang Founders’ Bell, a senior tradition.

You use a mallet, apparently--this was a surprise to me!

  • And yesterday, I competed in a four-hour Philadelphia scavenger hunt, coming in third!

"Take a picture with a complete stranger outside the Convention Center"

Somehow I managed to continue with everyday life (job applications and interviews, tours and other work in admission, homework besides thesis, making it to the gym every day…) but as I look back I’m not 100% sure where the time went.

Actually, take that sentence, and multiply it by four, and that’s how I feel about my college career. This is one of my last days at school, and I’m trying to think back on four years, and it’s very hard. The best analogy I’ve got is this: If you’ve ever embarked on a weight lifting program, you’ll know that you have to start small. Maybe you’re only benching 30 pounds when you start. But sure enough, you can move to 40, then 50, then 60. But each time you bump up, you know it because you’re using larger weights and you’re sore the next day!

Somehow, through college, I’ve become someone capable of benching a lot, but it sort of snuck up on me! Each paper you write, each guest speaker you hear, each article you dissect, you become a better student, better thinker, better scholar…but you don’t notice until you step back and look at the whole picture. In more ways than I can count, I’ve gained SO much from these four years. It’s not just about academics, though that was undeniably the center of my experience. It’s about all those corny things too: self-understanding and self-awareness and personal growth and transformation and blah blah blah. (I’m not usually good at the sentimental, so this was actually a pretty good paragraph for me).

There are so many posts I wanted to write and never did. There will be so much I’ll want to say that I can’t. There was much I wanted to do but couldn’t. But, in the end, I can’t, rationally, have any regrets: I got so much out of my Haverford years and I’ll always be grateful for my time here. I don’t know how I’ll cope with leaving, but everyone seems to manage, so I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

My friends and I were talking recently about what we might like to say, given the chance, to sum up our Haverford experience. I’ve attached my thoughts at the end of this post because I feel strongly about what I said there.

I did want to close by saying that one way in which I’d like to stay connected to the Haverford community is by always being a resource for anyone considering the college. Please feel free to reach out anytime that you discover this blog (hi future readers!). You can reach me at h.solomonstrauss (at) I’d love to hear from you, no matter the content of your email! (I really truly mean that, more seriously than I’ll be able to convince you, so just shoot me a note and see for yourself!)

Thanks for reading this year! And thanks, Haverford, for everything.

My final thoughts:

When we graduated high school, we probably all heard the same advice. ‘College will be the most important years of your life. You’re not a kid anymore. It’s time to get serious, because this time, it’s the real world.’ Clearly, those speakers didn’t know we were headed to Haverford. So before we take the next step, maybe we should think for a moment about the world we’re leaving, the world of Haverford College.

The “real world” works very differently here. Driving on to campus, you pass a sign at the entrance that reads, “Private Property.” But then, beneath that, and in larger letters, it says, “Visitors Welcome.” When we pulled up outside the dorms on move-in day, our cars were swarmed by Customs People in brightly colored shirts, telling us how excited they were that we’d arrived, and carrying our things to our rooms. Rule Number One: no one moves themselves into Haverford. Right away, you have a family, one that never really goes away as long as you’re here.
We all have stories about unlocked bikes or laptops left unattended for hours, or the simple kindness of classmates who seek us out to return lost belongings. When people ask, “How are you?”, they care about the answer. The arboretum uses the all-campus email list to tell us how the trees are doing. Sometimes we’re late for class after an unexpectedly long lunch where we debated the DC workers about the prowess of our respective intramural basketball teams. Have you ever turned a corner, spotted a tree in full bloom, and found yourself stopping to stare? What about that first nice day in the spring, when the pinwheels appear on Founders Green, glinting in the sunlight?

Think about the time since move-in day: all those experiments you ran, all those hours in SuperLab. Think of your thesis, and of all the research you put into it. But our time here isn’t just measured by specific milestones, it’s everything put together. We juggled school, sports, committees, friends, fun, even sleep–sometimes, it wasn’t clear how everything was going to get done. But it always did, and that feeling of accomplishment was the surest sign we were growing into Haverford.

Our education here was not meant to be comfortable; it was meant to provoke, to stretch, to enrich. In class, we heard points of view we had never before considered, and so the conversation continued at the gym, on the green, and late into the night in common rooms. We owe more than we can say to the incredible professors who have challenged and inspired us. If you finish at Haverford after four years with the same ideas, same opinions, and same skills that you had during your first week, then it didn’t work, did it? But whether measured by academic enrichment, athletic achievement, or any other standard, Haverford has ‘worked’ for all of us.

And so we spent four years in not-quite-the-real-world, and it’s time for us to give the real, real world a try. But for the rest of our lives, “Haverford Class of 2012” is going to be one of the most accurate descriptors of our approaches to problems and solutions, to challenges and understanding, to learning, to community, to the world, to life. We will be taking a lot with us from this place– and, frankly, the real world out there could use a little more ‘trust, concern, respect.’ They say that “home is not where you live, but where they understand you,” and I can’t think of any group for whom that is more accurate. You get a family on day one, and no matter where you go from here, Haverford will always be home.

But because this is Haverford, I can’t end on a sentiment like that. Yes, hard work got us here, and that deserves to be recognized, but we had a lot of fun along the way. Haverford has always been about knowing how to not take ourselves too seriously. So I’d like finish by dedicating a poem to the class of 2012. It’s a poem of hope and uncertainty, of the future and the past, of confidence and self-questioning. It was written by someone whose great literary works, which reflect a keen understanding of the real world, are taught a little earlier than the freshman writing seminar. I mean Dr. Seuss, of course.

“You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang, and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t.
Because sometimes you won’t.
I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that bang-ups and hang-ups will happen to you.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! 98 and three-quarters percent guaranteed.”

As we take our next step into the world, remember how real this world has been, and remember that here at Haverford, you’ll always have a home.

In Their Own Words: The Senior Thesis

Woo! Spring time! Time to head to a warm place, lie on the beach, relax and enjoy!

Who’s with me?

Actually, I’m not even with me.
Last week, I was home, in beautiful (?) Chicago, writing my thesis. Life’s a party, right?

My kinda town, Chicago is. Ah, beautiful springtime.

It’s actually a pretty good deal. I’ve got all the comforts of home, including good food, cozy workspaces, and a cat to keep me entertained while I thesis. Besides, the more I get written now, the less I have to write when I’m back at school and busy with all sorts of other things.

This is your cat on thesis.

I’ve written a bit about the madness of choosing a topic, and how it was such a difficult process for me, but I’m in full swing with a topic I’ve been enjoying. My paper will total nearly 100 pages, and I’ve only got about 16, so it still seems like a daunting project, but it definitely feels like something I’ll be able to do.

So thinking about thesis made me realize that you guys are getting a pretty skewed perspective because you only hear me complain talk about my thesis. In reality, Haverford guarantees you the chance to do undergraduate research, and every senior will do a capstone/thesis-like project before graduating. So I went to a few friends of mine in different majors and asked them to tell me a bit about their thesis.

And, I should say, just because these are thesis topics doesn’t mean the research just started in September. For many ‘Fords, research starts freshman year and continues straight through–it depends on whether that’s something you’re super passionate about and want to do lots on. The thought of plain, open-ended research didn’t as much appeal to me–I preferred writing papers for class with guidelines and deadlines–so I only started with this topic in September (actually, it’s more like January because choosing a thesis topic was that impossible). (I’ve obviously come around a bit–just look at what I did last summer!) By contrast, at least Jamie C and many other natural science majors have been working in their respective labs since freshman year, including many summers. It’s just another option you get–if that’s something you’re passionate about, you’ll have a chance to pursue it.

In their own words, here are some Haverford senior theses:

Jamie C., biology major.

  • So I’m a bio major in Jenni Punt and Steve Emerson’s combined lab.  My research focuses on embryonic and hematopoietic (blood) stem cells.  My thesis is entitled something to the effect of “Investigating the Potential of Long-Term Hematopoietic Stem Cell Expansion In vitro”.  Currently, hematopoietic stem cells, which primarily reside in the bone marrow of adults, are not able to be maintained and grown in culture for a long period of time, which limits the ability to manipulate these stem cells before using them for treatments (like stem cell therapies for leukemia patients).  Also, LT-HSCs are rare in the blood system, 1 in 100,000 cells, making them hard to extract and maintain.  Consequently, if we could develop a method to expand these cells in a culture, treat them to fix genetic defects, and then implant them into a patient after irradiation of their disease, we could make great strides in treatments for hematological (blood) disorders.

Jamie F., psychology major.

  • For my thesis, I’m working with social psychologist Ben Le  looking at interpersonal relationships. We’re examining the effects of power and construal level (ones ability to think abstract or concretely about their relationship) and how they influence relationship investments, sacrifices, satisfaction, and their perception of available alternatives. Put more simply, we’re looking at the effects of power and construal level on different aspects of a relationship. To test this we’ve been having participants come to our lab and fill out a long survey where we try to prime for high/low power and high/low low construal.

Dylan L., Growth and Structure of Cities (at Bryn Mawr College)

  • For my thesis as an architecture concentrator in the Growth & Structure of Cities department at Bryn Mawr, I designed a new academic theater at Yale University. I examined the role of architecture and planning in the historical development of Yale’s institutional identity and brand. The site context of my proposed theater was a neo-traditional residential complex, meaning the design of these buildings harkened back to the historical heart of campus and the Collegiate Gothic and Neo-Georgian buildings of the early-twentieth century. My design and written thesis highlighted how modern and historicizing architectural vocabularies can create complementing contrasts and play equally important roles in developing a cohesive institutional character.

Katie M., anthropology.

  • I’m an Anthropology major with a Gender and Sexuality Studies Concentration. My thesis is an ethnographic exploration of the role of gender in bicycle culture in Philadelphia, with attention to the historical intersections between feminism and cycling as well. I’m looking at women in the still-male-dominated fields of bike repair and bike messengering, perceptions and realities of gendered risk aversion and fashion choices in relation to cycling, and ways that the bicycle has been (and still can be) seen as a component of women’s liberation.

And, because I can never resist a good soapbox when I see one, here’s the final settled topic I’m working on:

  • The U.S. Constitution is divided on the question of War Powers–the President is the Commander in Chief, but the Congress has the power of the purse. There’s a lot of literature on when Presidents decide to go to war, but given that he has already deployed troops or asked for a declaration of war, what makes Congress respond? Congress is capable of holding hearings, screaming about the President on the news, cutting off funding, and many other actions that could complicated a President’s war plans–what factors affect the Congressional response to Presidential war actions? In particular I’m going to look at US involvement in Bosnia (1995) and Libya (2011) with an eye on perhaps predicting the Congressional response to Syria (2012?) if President Obama decides to get involved.

So there you have it! A … what’s the collective noun for thesis? Smattering of theses? A herd of theses? A tribe? A cluster? (Checking Wikipedia, I see that the collective noun for “gods” is Pantheon, so maybe we’ll just appropriate that for theses? It beats a “murder” of theses–that’s for crows, apparently). A lot of theses–we’ll stick with that for now.

If any of these particularly pique your interest, know that all senior theses are archived in the library, so stop by and read your favorite sometime!

Adventures with Analogy Girl: The Distribution Requirement is like…

I’m a big fan of analogies. This isn’t usually a problem, but my mind sometimes works in ways that others can’t always understand, rendering my analogies nearly useless and incomprehensible. My sophomore year, I took an Education class, and on one of the last days, we drew a portrait of the person sitting to our left and then hand them the portrait. Sarah, to my right, drew “Analogy Girl,” complete with a Superman-style cape.

You've been warned.

So it’s a pretty well-established thing that my analogies tend to be prolific and, frankly, not always understandable. So while I’d like to talk about distribution requirements today, I’m going to talk about the facts first, and then tell you a story involving, yes, an analogy, which you’re free to not understand.

OK, ready?

If you come on a tour here at Haverford or sit in on an info session, or even just peruse the website, you’ll see that we have a distribution requirement. There’s a few standard responses to this discovery: “Huh?” and “Ugh!” I’d like to try to handle both of those, in order.

First, it’s not so confusing after all! Rather than require you to take specific core classes, we ask that you take a few of a certain kind of class. Three humanities (English, languages, Classics, comparative literature, etc), three social sciences (history, political science, anthropology, etc), and three natural sciences (physics, chemistry, math, etc). One of those sciences should be a quantitative class. Take one year of a foreign language (but you can pass out with a good test score), a freshman writing seminar, and write a senior thesis. And that’s it! You can graduate!

It seems like a lot, but it really isn’t. I finished at the end of my sophomore year and I wasn’t even really trying. I think there’s two intrinsically awesome things about the distribution requirement (here’s the rebuttal to the “ugh!” argument).

First, it’s a way to satisfy your natural curiosity. Ever dream of taking astrophysics and learning about the universe but find yourself completely unable to even balance your checkbook? You’re in luck. Without a distribution requirement, there would be no reason for an institution to offer science classes for non-science majors. WITH the requirement, we do offer these classes! My sophomore year I took such a class: Astronomical Ideas. It was taught by a regular professor, who gave zero indication that teaching this class, specifically for non-science majors with little to no math and heavy on the qualitative learning, was at all a burden. She was enthusiastic, and really wanted us to have a passion for the material. And she’s cool, to boot: she’s got a galaxy named after her–and not just any old galaxy, an invisible galaxy! No really. Look up Willman 1! (Wonder how you’re supposed to discover an (invisible) galaxy? After taking the class I can tell you all about it! I can also tell you about the cycles of the moon and three reasons why Pluto’s not a planet. Too cool, unless you’re my friends and you’re sick of hearing about the moon three years later).

Not a planet.

Also not a planet.

Or, maybe you’re a science major and can’t fathom taking an upper-level history class though you’re really curious about the origins of the societal order we have today. Try “History of Science” which will chart the discovery of all the biggest breakthroughs in science for the last 500 years. That’s another class that wouldn’t be offered without a distribution requirement.

This is the picture Wikipedia has for "History of Science." I trust them.

But there’s another reason to take a wide array of classes. As my freshman adviser told me on one of my first days on campus, it just makes schedule sense! For example: as a political science major, I could take four classes in my major, but I’d just read and write and read and write and eventually go mad. How about classes that are relevant to a political science major but which have problem sets and tests to balance your schedule? Freshman year I did just this: political science and classics, but also economics and French. Perfectly balanced. Last semester I took three seminars in my major, read 400 pages per week, wrote 90 pages of final papers, and went mad. I really wished I’d continued to listen to my adviser.

So, hopefully those two reasons are enough to convince you of the awesome of the distribution requirement. I have a newfound appreciation for it, after such a major-heavy semester. (Here’s where the analogy kicks in).

I spent winter break detoxing from all that political science, and decided I needed to spend this last semester taking a wide array of classes–taking a truly liberal arts schedule for the first time in a few semesters. In retrospect, I’d describe it a little like biology. You know when you just need something biologically and your body knows this and signals to you and you end up acting properly but doing so unconsciously? I’m thinking about how eating ice is a symptom of anemia–figure that out, and you’ve diagnosed a serious issue! Or how you can’t die from lack of sleep–you’ll just fall asleep! (Have I lost you already?) My point is that this sort of felt like my brain telling me what it needed: not enough liberal arts–register for a variety of classes next time.

So this semester I’m taking philosophy and calculus! If you don’t know me at all, I’ll tell you the last math I took was five years ago (discounting stats which, somehow, doesn’t seem to count), and that I’ve been dividing when I should be subtracting. It’s pretty much a sitcom waiting for a station to pick up the storyline.

This is pretty much how I do math.

I actually had a bit of a debacle last week when I discovered that I don’t currently have enough credits outside my major to graduate! EEK! I’m not particularly proud of this–I like to think of myself as a well-rounded person who’s interested in a lot…but who ends up taking a lot of political science despite herself. This is more of my biology theory! I somehow subliminally knew that I needed to be branching out, and did so just in time.

In case you’re worried, my adviser said he had never heard of this happening to anyone in his entire time at Haverford–which just makes me feel worse about it, but should be very mollifying to anyone who’s worried about the distribution requirement.

So where are we? We’ve learned about the distribution requirement and why it’s awesome. We’ve learned that my analogies are not, in fact, decipherable by mortals. And we’ve learned that it’s really hard to not fulfill your distribution, even if you’re not focused on it and if you’re not trying. And, if you run into a problem like I did (though, for the record, I got my distribution done with no problem; it was the “out of major” requirement I had a harder time with), the Deans will be more than happy to make time to meet with you and help you out–I can’t say enough about the support I’ve had in the last week.

I’ll keep you all apprised of how calculus goes this year, and look out for the storyline on your TV next fall. ‘Til then, to appropriate what my professor says, “study perspicaciously!”

Ready, Set, Thesis! (Hannah)

I had this moment on Friday afternoon where I was so glad to be an admissions blogger so I can tell you all about the terrific time I was having. A few crucial pieces came together to make a great chunk of FANTASTIC and I couldn’t wait to get to writing to talk about it.

I should start by explaining that each Haverford senior does some kind of capstone project, usually in the form of a thesis. The political science thesis, which I’ll be working on from now ‘til April, begins in earnest next semester but we’re already laying the groundwork. I was supposed to spend my summer thinking about topics I might like to write about for my thesis–and I did, but without much success. Some of the topics didn’t seem feasible, some weren’t the right size for a thesis because they were too broad or too narrow, and other such problems.

The issue is, our proposals for our topics were due at the end of September. So when the last week of September rolled around and I still didn’t have a topic, I knew I was in trouble. I emailed a professor with whom I worked particularly closely to try to develop a topic, told him I was in trouble, and asked to meet. He didn’t have scheduled office hours so I didn’t know what kind of luck I’d have, but he replied offering to meet…by Skype! Yes, I Skype’d with my professor about my thesis topic. Possibly THE highlight of my Haverford career? Definitely in the running.

Also in the running for the title of Highlight was a meeting I had with the same professor later in the week. I had gone into office hours to continue to refine my topic, and after we had sort of agreed on an idea, my professor settled into the chair opposite mine and said, conversationally, “So, you’re a big baseball fan, right?” 20 minutes later I finally left office hours and headed to dinner but not before thoroughly discussing the pros and cons of the Designated Hitter (I’m not a fan).

My attempts to refine my topic were generally unsuccessful but I finally managed to coax together two ideas in time to turn in the proposal on Friday. (‘Two ideas?’, you’re wondering. Yes, two, because choosing a topic is such an existentially difficult process for me). Then I gave a campus tour just as the weather was clearing: a week of rain transformed into a beautifully sunny, crisp fall morning. (I definitely saw symbolism in the nice weather shift). I had just enough time left over for a nice long bike ride and to throw a baseball for a bit with a friend.

So, to recap, the excellence that was worth sharing: sort of got a thesis topic, Skype’d with a professor, got more of a thesis topic, chatted about baseball with the same professor, successfully submitted a thesis proposal, and enjoyed the beautiful fall weather with friends on, and off, campus.

Given that the process of choosing a topic was so arduous and I don’t really have a topic yet, I’ll leave the nuances of my actual topic for a later post when everything’s a little more settled. The moral of the story for now, I think, is that even when things are completely frustrating–so much rain and so little thesis!–we have an amazing support network here at Haverford that can make your day turn around and be wonderful so quickly–I sort of have a topic! I had two excellent conversations with a totally awesome professor!

Stay tuned for more (sure to be absurd) adventures regarding this thesis of mine.