The seniors at Trinitas Christian School recently finished their senior thesis project. Trinitas is not the only school where seniors write and defend a thesis as a requirement of graduation. Thesis papers, and sometimes a defense of those papers, are a requirement in most classical schools and some prep schools around the country. It is a good project to cap off a high school career and prepare for the next step, which is almost always college for Trinitas grads.
The thesis project requires far more intense research than most high school seniors have been exposed to previously. Often students will read more than 1,000 pages just to get comfortable enough with their topics to begin the writing process, which usually produces a twelve to twenty page paper. The exercise of finding the right sources, annotating them, and then synthesizing all of that information to help argue a thesis is a high level skill for a seventeen or eighteen year old student to aspire to. These are the kinds of papers they may write several of as they pursue an undergraduate degree though, so the thesis project prepares seniors for what is coming in the years ahead.
As students get older, they are trusted with projects that have longer and longer lead times. Such is routine for adults, but for students to stay on track to complete a project that may not be due for weeks takes a lot of discipline. Most thesis projects last anywhere from several months to a year. The high school senior has to develop tremendous discipline and self-control over the course of the project if he is to make it to the end successfully and on time. Such discipline is essential not only in college but in all of life. While the college student will likely have classes during his academic career that have only one assignment—a huge paper or project not due until the last day of class, most working adults can testify to balancing numerous projects at once with deadlines ranging from yesterday to next year. The senior thesis builds discipline over the course of a long term project preparing students for college and life beyond.
Some senior thesis projects end with an oral defense. At the Trinitas thesis defense, students present a summary of their papers before a panel as well as family and friends. After the summary, a panel of faculty and board members question the student for about thirty minutes. The big value of this exercise is to help students learn to think on their feet and argue their positions boldly. It sometimes requires humility of students also as they realize through questioning that not all their positions are tenable. High school seniors are not likely to take a position that proves the definitive word on a given topic, but this is their opportunity to enter the world’s great conversations and have their say. Civil discourse is disappearing from society and losing its place to slander, fear mongering, and partisanship for partisanship’s sake. Thesis defense is one way to re-train the next generation that civil discourse is good for society.
High school seniors are leaving the relative comfort of their high schools to enter what can be a cold and hostile world. For the young Christian men and women graduating from Trinitas, we want them to be able to think on their feet well enough to be productive and contributing members of our free republic and, even more importantly, to be able to give an answer to the world for the hope that is within them (1 Peter 3:15).