Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Successful Thesis Defense

A week ago Ethan and his dad were at school prepping for Ethan's thesis defense. It is one of the most important individual events at our school.
Ethan had really enjoyed the writing process. This surprised and pleased him. His thesis, "My Hole Life" is thoughtful, reflective and literary. The title is a play on words since he uses the metaphor of holes and digging to represent how he has lived his life thus far. He began his thesis with a description of what he learned about himself during some of his recent adventures, most notably the canyoneering trip in Utah. He then went on to describe and reflect on the various qualities he believes an effective adult possesses. He says,"The internal qualities of an effective adult are: independence, productivity, responsibility, and freedom. An internal quality is something that affects the way a person lives and conducts himself." Interwoven into his written and oral presentations the audience is treated to excerpts from Anthem by Ayn Rand, "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein and most importantly, "Pioneers, O Pioneers!" by Walt Whitman. It is the most serious piece of writing he has ever done and I am so proud of him.

Prepping for the oral presentation was a different challenge. How Ethan thought it would go, and how he needed to do it were entirely different. As a result, we were all up late last Sunday evening and he was sweating it. I knew he would do well, but it was hard to see him so stressed.

Monday came. The chairs and podium were arranged. Artifacts and slides representing his passions and adventures were displayed on a table. Guests were arriving. After a short introduction by Missa, his committee chair, in strode my boy so confident and grown up. He was poised with so much grace as he began to recite the first half of "Pioneers, O Pioneers!" from memory. It was really something watching,no, enjoying his presentation. My little boy has been replace with such a remarkable young man. I was so proud of him. He had been eagerly anticipating the Q&A part of the evening. It has always been his favorite part. He was asked some really tough questions, but answered them honestly and with integrity. At one point in the presentation Ethan talked about what it was like to have his dad be such an active and integral part of his life, helping to mold who he had become. We looked at Ethan with his closely cropped hair, his blue button down shirt, belt and pen in the pocket. Then we looked at his father, wearing the same. We had a small chuckle over that.

While he was in his private session with his panel we cleaned up. We did not doubt that he would be successful, but the waiting was hard nonetheless. He came out of the library smiling. Shortly thereafter the members of the panel arrived and congratulated him. We were all smiles and hugs. And then we all went for Victory Pie at Village Inn - a tradition at our school.

The whole evening I was struck with a curious set of responses. In many ways it seems like Ethan has been part of my life forever, and at the same time it seems like just a few days ago he was the tiny boy digging big holes in my garden with a big shovel. I am excited for what lies ahead for him. I am also a bit sentimental, knowing that he will become more and more independent and I will be increasingly on the sidelines. I know that is how it is supposed to go, but I will miss him all the same. I am so proud of him and who he is becoming.

Here's how the process goes at our school:

In September the candidate picks a panel of eight adults to help guide and advice him during his process. They are to address how they have prepared themselves to be effective adults in the larger community. After many conferences and drafts, his paper was complete and sent to everyone in the school community. On a given evening the graduation candidate does an oral presentation and participates in a question and answer session. After that the guests leave and the panel, along with the candidate, holds a final and private Q&A session. The candidate is excused from the room and the advising committee decides whether the candidate has earned a diploma, or not.

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