Senior Thesis: The Great Hearts Capstone

Great Hearts Academies June 12, 2017

Receiving a Great Hearts education is a unique experience, just ask our seniors who will write and defend a thesis paper centered around one of the six great ideas: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Justice, Equality, or Liberty.

“We want our students to have three special experiences at the end of their Great Hearts education,” said Andrew Ellison, Great Hearts Vice President of Upper Schools. “First, we want them to complete a major independent project—that’s freedom and responsibility.  Second, we want them to exercise independence in choosing a topic and developing their original ideas in a long-format paper.  Finally, we want them to have the unique experience of the public oral examination and thesis defense—it’s a challenge like none other, and completing it is an accomplishment like none other.”

The senior thesis is the capstone of a student’s experience with Great Hearts. It is a yearlong process, beginning at the end of junior year and finishing in the last quarter of senior year.

“After years of reading and discussing the greatest books and ideas of Western civilization, the thesis project calls upon students to choose their own topic and synthesize their own thought about it,” said Ellison. Using works of philosophy, art, literature, or music, students begin examining the great ideas in contexts of personal interest. Through reflection, and with help of their Humane Letters teachers, students then choose a set of 3 different works to analyze in the frame of one of the great ideas. But getting to this place doesn’t happen overnight. Scholars lead up to this project through their Humane Letters classes. “It is the kind of project that only Great Hearts seniors could undertake—they have read so many great books and thought about so many difficult problems and deep ideas.”

The beginning of senior year is spent carefully exploring, studying, and discussing these three works with the assistance of a faculty advisor. With the aid of their discussions, the student forms a thesis statement they then strive to understand further through the paper-writing process. The paper is written in sections, with the advisor reading and giving feedback about the paper at each new revision.

The project requires at least 40 hours of independent reading, at least that many hours of writing and editing, and somewhere in between there are around 10 hours of meetings with a faculty advisor.

Finally, after the student submits their paper, the student defends their ideas to a panel of three faculty members. Family and friends are invited to see this culmination of the student’s learning through the Great Hearts curriculum.

“The senior thesis experience of independent study and writing is totally unique—when Great Hearts graduates start writing their first big term papers in college, they will see their collegiate peers melting down under the pressure—and they will think, ‘No big deal—I made it through Senior Thesis!’”

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