Friday, May 20, 2011

Senior Presentations and Graduation, 2011

Since Dr. Susan Ouellette is currently on sabbatical leave, completing the manuscript of a book, I have been filling in for her as interim Chair until the end of her term on July 1. After that date I am excited to start a fresh three-year term as Chair of the History Department. This is my first blog post, and it will be one of many in the coming months. We have a lot of news to report, but I want my first posting to focus on our senior thesis presentations on April 29 and the graduation festivities of the past week.

Graduation is always a very bittersweet time for both the History Department faculty and our graduating seniors. Thirty-two of our majors graduated on a very rainy Monday, May 16, and began (or "commenced") a new phase of their lives as Saint Michael's College graduates with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. It is bittersweet because while we faculty are happy to see our students complete their degree, we also fondly remember the many exciting moments of intellectual exchange and learning that we shared with them, both in the classroom or on academic study trips. I for one still recall precisely where many of our graduating History seniors sat in my classroom almost four years ago, shortly after they had first arrived on campus. And though they have left the campus physically as new graduates, many of them will remain in contact with us faculty as they develop their careers as lawyers, secondary or elementary school teachers, college and university professors, museum curators, businessmen or businesswomen (among many other professions).

The History Department celebrated the graduation of our seniors with our annual ice cream social on Baccalaureate Sunday, and one of the highlights of that event for me was the ability to meet and talk with the families of our students over vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. Another highlight of every annual ice cream social is the announcement of the winner of the Pfeifer Prize for the best quality senior thesis from the previous calendar year. This year's (2010) winner was Thomas E. Bradley, a double major in Political Science, whose thesis, "The Right Man in the Right Place: John Hay, the Open Door, and Sino-American Relations," was cited for its "skillful use of primary and secondary sources marshaled in the form of a systematic and convincing argument."

Tom Bradley was not the only History major to win an award at graduation. Our recipient of departmental honors at the Baccalaureate Honors Ceremony was Shelby Superneau, a double major in Secondary Education and member of our local Phi Beta Kappa chapter (Gamma of Vermont). The Father Prevel Memorial Award at Commencement, given to the male student who maintained a high academic level of achievement while making "numerous and exemplary contributions" to the college community, went to Matthew Seklecki. This is the most prestigious award, along with its equivalent (the Fairbanks Award) given to a female student, that a graduate can receive at Commencement. A member of the History Department faculty was also honored at the Senior Brunch. The Student Association of the College awarded Dr. George Dameron the Reverend Gerald E. Dupont Award for his dedication to the ideals of the college and "in recognition of his outstanding contributions" to the college community.

About two weeks before graduation the History Department hosted one of the principal and key events of every spring: the oral presentations by seniors of their senior thesis research projects. We always accompany these presentations with as much pizza and coffee as our seniors and faculty can consume. This spring eleven of our seniors took about fifteen minutes to tell us about what they had discovered in their research. Each faculty member works with up to four students as a thesis advisor, and I advised four students this semester. The topics chosen by my advisees, for example, included the origins of the Robin Hood legend, the role of the theme of "cunning" in Viking sagas, the socio-economic origins of medieval cities in Belgium, and possible ties between bandits in sixteenth century Italy and the emergence of the modern mafia. I can speak for all of my colleagues when I say that the quality of these presentations has been improving steadily over the past few years! This spring was certainly no exception. We congratulate these as well as all our seniors on their graduation, and we wish them the very best as they begin a new phase in their lives.

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