Each year, seniors at the Santa Fe campus of St. John’s College are given a month to write their senior papers before turning them in at President Roosevelt’s Hunt House. Normally, the following one to two months the seniors spend adjusting to their classes after returning from their writing period and preparing for their final examination – the senior oral. In the senior oral a student and a panel of three tutors discuss the student’s paper. Seniors write on a wide variety of books both on and off the program. This year, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the senior orals are being held digitally.
I sat down with Will Thompson’20 to ask him about his digital senior oral, how he’s finding his zoom tutorials and his favorite memories as a student at St. John’s College. Let’s jump right into it!
What did you write your senior paper on?
I wrote my paper on The Waves by Virginia Woolf. And I focused on the question of identity and the loss of identity in the book. Specifically, one character, Bernard, and his relationship between expanding his sense of identity to encompass other people and losing his sense of identity completely and the relationship between those two things.
What was your writing process like?
I had read The Waves three times before the fall. My advisor and I met once a week to read one chapter of The Waves and we would discuss it. Late into the semester, once we finished that, I started writing 3 to 5 page papers about certain sections on certain topics, trying to focus on something more specific. My advisor wanted 15 pages by the time I came back from winter break, so I did that. And the 30 pages I had going into it? Very little of that ended up in the paper.
I had a rough sketch of how my paper was going to go and I quickly realized that it was too ambitious. Basically, I had to focus on one character instead of two and focus on just a couple of scenes. A lot of the process for me was writing and then realizing that what I wrote wasn’t exactly what I wanted to talk about.
My advisor said the first two weeks are all about vomiting out words as much as possible, the second two weeks are about carving that word-vomit into a statue. I really like that.
How did you feel about your digital senior oral? What was it like?
I thought it went really well considering the circumstances! I was glad that friends and family could tune in who wouldn’t otherwise be able to see it. I thought we had a good thought-provoking conversation. My understanding of the book was deepened and overall, I don’t think it was that different from having an in person senior oral.
How are you liking your Zoom tutorials?
In some ways I feel closer than ever to my senior class, a real sense of comradery. I’ve seen my classmates rise to the challenge and everyone is making the most out of the time we have left. Actually, one of my tutors started hosting zoom parties where all of the students of the class could meet up and socialize.
Let’s talk about your time as an underclassman. What’s your favorite memory at St. John’s?
That’s a hard one. Here’s one – staying up late preparing long Apollonius props. And then having them committed to memory the next day and just being able to do the whole thing! I found it to be very rewarding.
Wow, an ambitious writing process! Very impressive. And congratulations on finishing! Do all SJC students follow a similar writing process?
You should also be proud of working on the photon quantum mechanics setup and getting it aligned to the point where we were onfidently counting individual photons. Though we didn’t get them to jump through any hoops, we’re well on our way. I and the college are thankful for your fine work!