The following entry is guest authored by Kelsey Niichel, Class of 2011.

Since graduating from Ridgeview, it has come as a surprise to me to see how many people live an “unexamined life,” as Socrates would call it. Much of my interaction with my fellow man has been superficial, at best, which has left me sometimes wondering if the Senior Thesis really does matter. In revisiting my own presentation, I have come to the conclusion that yes, it still does.

As a senior, the question posed, “what is the good life?” not only forced our young minds to wrestle with moral issues, but relationships, spirituality, and other dimensions of the human experience. My thesis was centered around a constant interplay between good and evil, the desire to do what is right versus the desire to do what is easy. I hypothesized that man really has two natures that are constantly at war, much like Jekyll and Hyde or Gollum and Smeagol (the two examples that I drew most heavily upon). The achievement of the good life, for me, was found in chasing the “right” option, choosing the moral high ground, when it presented itself, and in continuing to do so as to make it a lifelong habit. While this seems easy in theory, my own personal experiences show that it is not so. I have, since graduation, experienced dark periods in my life, both emotionally and morally. I subsequently had to make a conscious decision to stop choosing what was easy or what felt good, and to choose what was the absolute good. I specifically remember my parents referencing my thesis when I would do something particularly wrong or bad.

The strengths of my personal thesis can be found when presented with a moral challenge, but it had left me woefully unprepared to deal with adult relationships, or other aspects of modern life such as money or career building. I do believe though, that by allowing students on the brink of adulthood to answer these questions of morality, it allows them to build an identity that will carry through to other aspects of their lives. They have examples of healthy and unhealthy human interaction within the books they read, and ultimately they have the freedom to act however they choose and face the consequences of those actions. This freedom gives the Ridgeview student a depth of character that is not often found elsewhere.

This freedom also allows the student to amend their thesis, footnote it, if you will, when they are faced with certain challenges or scenarios. Herein lies the virtue of presenting the thesis to a hungry audience. One of the most difficult questions that I have had to grapple with, both during my presentation and as an individual is the measure of what is right and wrong and to whom can we look for examples. I was challenged to define a higher power that helps us determine. Some look to moral philosophy, while others look to religion and spirituality. I recently had an interaction with a philosophy student (not a Ridgeview graduate) that centered around this question, and I was pleased to find that my musings during the process of writing this thesis resurfaced. While I still hold that there are absolutes, I would venture to say that there is much more gray area in the field of morality than I previously thought. The relevance of my thesis though has come through again recently as I begin my career in medicine, and will be forced to deal with ethical dilemmas that have lasting consequences.

In conclusion, and in speaking to the students directly, the thesis still matters because it allows you two main advantages over the general population. First, it allows you to examine yourselves in a way that is often forgotten. You have this opportunity to define for yourselves what is beautiful, right and true. It allows you to become an individual. Secondly, it allows for personal growth. As a senior, you have these examples of how to act and how not to act, and yet ultimately the choice is yours. You will come across situations for which you have no answer. You will have questions posed to you to which you cannot answer. In the face of this uncertainty, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Don’t be afraid of not having the answers. Ridgeview’s senior thesis gives you a foundation for your beliefs, and it is just that – a foundation. Not the entirety of your life, not the entirety of human experience. You will learn and grow through personal experience just as much, if not more so, than you have in the halls of Ridgeview. However, the foundation is the most important part of a house, and your educational foundation serves as the most important beginning to life as a thoughtful, moral, engaged adult. This foundation is why the senior thesis still matters.

I asked Amanda Sanders, class of 2010, to reflect on her thesis. Amanda explained:

“I discussed how one could only be great if you were to accept and embrace your mortality. The truly great man would be the one who knows that he is going to die and accepts that fate choosing to live life to the fullest, despite the unknown of what comes after death.

“My thesis has shaped me in how I try to live. I have experienced a lot of loss in my life and so my thesis was particularly meaningful to me in that I realized I want to truly live. I have tried to accept my mortality and do what makes me happy and live my life to the fullest rather than choose the safe route, which has been challenging but has also brought great reward.

“My thesis really rang true with me after the loss of my Nana. She always talked about wanting to do so many things like write a book, travel more, see me graduate college, start a family and watch my kids grow. She would always say that she was going to be around for a long time to do those things. She was a great woman, but she didn’t do a lot of what she wanted because she thought she would be around for longer than she had. After she died, I was faced with the decision to study abroad in Spain. I had never been away from home or on my own at that point and when making the decision I thought of my Nana and how she never got to do things because she didn’t take the opportunity. I knew that I had to realize I may never get another opportunity like this and I needed to take the chance to live life to the fullest despite all my fears and inhibitions.

“During my Q&A I got a question along the lines of, ‘If you believe in God and an afterlife, why does accepting your mortality matter since you will go to a better place?’ I answered then, and still say now that knowing you will go to a better place doesn’t excuse you from accepting your mortality. If you know that you are going to a better place, then it is even more important that you use your knowledge of the inevitable to have an effect on those around you and show them that life on earth matters.

“I know you’ve probably heard this a million times, but when writing your thesis 1) break it down into manageable chunks and 2) write about something you are passionate about.”

Since graduating, Amanda has graduated from CSU with a BA in Languages, Literatures and Cultures with a concentration in Spanish. She now teaches elementary Spanish and has an infant son.

Although most community members know that the senior thesis project is the pinnacle of the Ridgeview experience, some may not fully understand its significance.

On the most basic level, the assignment reflects the completion of the Latin trivium, utilizing most directly the final stage: rhetoric. It requires the expression of ideas not simply memorized, but reasoned out and strung together in a thorough, logical way.

More radically, it embodies Ridgeview’s primary purpose: to provide minds with a liberal arts education – an education concerned with freedom of the mind – in a world where most education has become emotionally charged and vocationally directed.

Those who have attended a thesis understand that, though products of the mind, presentations are neither emotionless nor impractical. Instead, Ridgeview seniors interweave the questions of how they should live and why they believe this to be true.

These are questions that very few adults can answer, in my experience. Surely, very few people examine themselves this deeply. Ridgeview seniors are asked to give eloquent solutions to humanity’s problems not because it is easy, but because it is necessary. These young adults are not required to be right, but they are required to provide evidence for why their view is good, beautiful, and true.

And, in my experience, all of them are able to touch on these, and most are able to grasp them firmly. Every thesis is backed by the Greek concepts of freedom and order, the Medieval comparisons of right and might, the American struggles of change and stability,  the modern questions of cruelty and humanity, and so much more. When each student has grappled with such questions, their answers contain immense experience and depth.

Thus, the senior thesis becomes both a graduate’s justification and Ridgeview’s validation. Ridgeview has often quoted Goethe, “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” And thus, in asking eighteen-year-olds a timeless question, Ridgeview invites them into the conversation the faculty has worked so hard to prepare them for.

If you want to know why a Ridgeview education matters, attend a couple theses. The students speak for themselves, boldly and eloquently. I would also encourage you to keep up with Alumna in Residence over the next couple months as graduates reflect on their own senior theses, offer advice, and explain why their theses still matter.

At present, I am reading through C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, a collection of letters written from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood about a man’s struggles with Christianity. Although I could continue writing this blog as if reading this was a very noble pursuit, I will instead admit that I am still working on the same three books I have been working on for the past several months.

I am ashamed, as a Ridgeview community member who loves and values reading, to admit this. However, I am committed to the lesson this particular confession contains, and will thus explain:

As a Ridgeview student, and even as a college student, my primary pursuit was learning. The novelty of that only strikes me now that I have worked full time for about eight months. Until May, I had the seventeen-year luxury of having prescribed reading and learning times. When eight hours a day are spent in academia, spending an hour or two watching videos or TV shows hardly seems like much of a detriment.

Youth educates people in the art of wasting time. There is, indeed, virtue in being more creative and less wasteful. But, when time is so plentiful, a few moments hardly seem indispensable. And, when most time is useful, flippant moments seem acceptable.

How many moments have we, young and old alike, spent disengaging and merely passing time? A moment in a college classroom tells you how adept young people are at a half-conscious habitual withdrawal. A glance around an auditorium of two hundred students will quickly reveal more than that many devices offering distractions not just from the learning itself, but from the time between classes. A waiting room at a doctor’s office shows tens of adults absentmindedly tapping at a game on their phone.

Upon reflection, I believe that technology has conjured one of the worst distractions:  the art of not simply wasting time, but of doing nothing. Perhaps this is not entirely a new problem. In the twelfth of The Screwtape Letters, I came across this passage: “The Christians describe the Enemy as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong’. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes he does not like.”*

There is a special evil in being distracted by something that brings pure distraction rather than pleasure. That said, I would argue that some of the shows I watch have value, intellectual and otherwise. However, at what point do we keep watching not because we want to, but because we are attached to wasting time?

With this realization, my hope is not to cease wasting time, but to waste time more sparingly. As Screwtape chastises Wormwood, he remarks: “And now for your blunders. On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there- a walk through country he really likes, and take alone.Were you so ignorant to see the danger of this?”**

Indeed, if we are to spend time, rather than waste it, we might receive goodness and joy rather than emptiness and guilt. So, may our students realize the great luxury of spending eight hours a day in something joyful and worthwhile. And, may our community members like myself  make time for noble pursuits rather than filling our time with nothing.

*C S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, pbk. ed. (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007, Copyright 2002), 219-220.

**Ibid, 221.

My freshman year of college held a plethora of changes, many of which were expected and a few of which were not.

I had anticipated the change in work load, with more free time but also more homework. I had not anticipated feeling like ninety percent of the classes were easier than those in high school.

I had predicted that I would have fewer close friends but not that my closest friendships would still be formed over studying.

However, the most obvious alteration was the change in the standard of dress.

At first, I wore slacks and my regular dress code Ridgeview attire because it seemed most proper for class. As fall came, I reveled in the freedom of wearing jeans. One day, I spotted a nineteen year-old woman (presumably on the way to class) wearing Hello Kitty “footie” pajamas. I quickly realized that knowing how to dress oneself was as much a privilege as much as a Ridgeview education.

I was not unaware that my school attire was more professional and demure than many others’ (I went to Ridgeview, but I did not live under a rock). I had never come into conflict with the dress code or taken issue with it. I felt the dress code furthered my expression of individuality, allowing more emphasis of my thoughts and ideas.

Indeed, as Albert Einstein points out, clothing in itself is not the object: “If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.”*

Moreover, what stunned me in college was that others did not seem to possess a way of gauging appropriate styles. Other students did not understand that there ought to be a different standard of dress for having a night out, hanging out with friends,  going out with your grandparents, going to class or even sleeping. It seems trivial, but knowing how to dress for an occupation or occasion is certainly a virtue.

Machiavelli writes: “When evening comes, I return to my home, and I go into my study; and on the threshold, I take off my everyday clothes, which are covered with mud and mire, and I put on regal and curial robes; and dressed in a more appropriate manner I enter into the ancient courts of ancient men and am welcomed by them kindly.”**

Thus, how we dress reflects not only what we think of ourselves, but how we view the task at hand. It is only fitting that we dress more formally in class than we do hanging out with friends because the task itself demands a graver demeanor.

*Treasury of the Christian Faith: An Encyclopedic Handbook of the Range and Witness of Christianity, ed. Stanley I. Stuber and Thomas Curtis Clark, Association Press (New York: 1949), 415.

**Niccolò Machiavelli, The Portable Machiavelli, ed. Peter E. Bondanella and Mark Musa, The Viking Portable Library (Hammondsworth, Eng.: Penguin Books, 1979), 1.

The holiday season is a reprieve from the hustle and bustle. It is like hitting a pause, although perhaps it feels more like a flash-forward.

This year was a great year for me. I graduated from college, I got my job at Ridgeview, and I got married. There are many who are celebrating life this year: newborns, recoveries, weddings, and other accomplishments. This holiday season will bring new people and new traditions together.

I also know many for whom this year was rough. People have passed and people have begun to forget everything; people have done terrible things or suffered terrible things; people have struggled and watched loved ones struggle.

There will be empty seats this year, some of which we might have anticipated. We might have cemented the memory of a grandparent’s last Christmas. Other empty seats, we never could have or would have foreseen. There has been tragedy and loss this year, both beyond measure.

There will be truly happy hearts as well as melancholy souls. Some people will be touched with a combination, smiling sincerely with tears in their eyes. We must recognize each of these feelings as part of the universal human experience, and welcome all at our celebrations.

After all, the holidays are a time to be together, to help each other look beyond the momentary happiness or sadness and find an underlying joy. May we all find that joy this season, a joy that will refresh after a long year and sustain us through another.

Good tidings and Happy New Year!

“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home… And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition.”*

Each year for the past eight years, I have spent most of my free time in December carefully tending to large and numerous batches of peppermint bark. I have adapted the recipe and changed the presentation, but the minty chocolate still provides the same comfort as it did when I was in eighth grade. As I see friends and family during the holiday season, I hand them a bar wrapped in red foil. I enjoy both the reactions of old friends who recognize it and the reaction of a new friend trying it for the first time. And so, traditions become a large part of who we are.

If habits form the character of an individual, traditions define the character of a community.  From Athenian ostracism and the laconic language of Sparta to Medieval Yule celebrations and Midsummer’s Eve festivals, traditions show what and who people value.

Deviation from tradition shows us the wisdom or error in our ways.  To Kill a Mockingbird and Hard Times reveal flaws in customs of their time. Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World and Frankenstein show the possible outcomes of breaking from tradition, or of following current trends to their logical conclusions. Maintaining or altering traditions determines the trajectory of society. These consistencies create stability, and, as Tevye pointed out: balance.

On a smaller scale, customs define families. Families retell and reread old stories not because they have forgotten them, but because they hold particular importance. Families celebrate holidays by spending time with each other, by doing particular activities and by enjoying certain foods. The consistency, like routine, gives us a sense of unity and provide us with a feeling of comfort.

Every tradition has a sense of precariously balancing history with innovation. Bittersweet changes accompany transitions in life, and as children grow, traditions change to be more age appropriate. The transition from having children to having adult children alters the dynamics of holidays and gatherings. Families grow out of traditions, make new traditions, and then change them again. Adapting allows growth for individuals and as well as the community. No individual ever reaches a point where community is no longer necessary.

So, as we go into the holiday season, I urge parents, alumni, teachers, young children, and grown children to make time for friends and family. If old traditions seem stale, make new ones. Do not settle for separate experiences when universal ones are possible. Joy, comfort and love add to the health of our families and our Ridgeview community.

*Tevye in Joseph Stein’s musical Fiddler on the Roof.

At Ridgeview, I found my place at school, in a circle of friends, and within my family. The time and energy I spent on different aspects of my life was imperfectly balanced, as some weeks I spent extra time on homework and some weekends I spent 2 nights at friends’ houses. I received strong academic markings, I painted and I baked cakes, I attended school social events, and I spent time with my family.

Even though most of my time was spent at Ridgeview or with Ridgeview people, I was more than a student. I was a sister, a daughter, and a friend. It does a great deal of good to also realize that teachers and staff are also more than just that: they are siblings, children, friends, spouses, parents, and much more.

Perhaps this seems trivial or obvious, but it is nonetheless vital. It is easy to view occupations as identities; honestly, most of our childhood is spent equivocating the two. The word “fireman” contains not only overt vocational information, but also implied relational information.  This is perhaps because a job often accompanies certain characteristics. However, the danger of assuming people exist within a title is that many of our encounters exist within specific parameters, such as: between 7 and 3, 5 days a week.

Indeed, adding characteristics also complicates things. Examine how we think of the Founding Fathers: as the first president of the United States, George Washington is easily admired. However, if you begin to add information about who he was as a person, he becomes more humanized. Our admiration and thus our relationship to him becomes complicated.

There is perhaps some level of knowledge about others that becomes uncomfortable, unnecessary, and even inappropriate. However, the understanding that people exist outside of our own relationship with them fights solipsism (the illusion that our own existence precludes all those we come into contact with) and selfishness (the delusion that our own needs supersede those of all other people).

With holidays upon us, I entreat Ridgeview community members to remember not just who they are in relation to others, but who others might also be. Students are not merely students and teachers are not simply teachers. We have other duties that define us and make us who we are. We are brothers, sisters, friends and so much more.

Malcolm Gladwell described a 10,000-Hour Rule, which states that 10,000 hours of doing a particular task makes an expert.

My senior year of high school, Jamie Randall (’12) and I calculated our time at Ridgeview: 10 years at Ridgeview, times 7 hours a day, times 180 days per school year, which amounts to 12,800 seat-hours alone. This does not include homework, dinnertime conversations about the Aeneid, heated after-school debates about Crime and Punishment, frequent contemplation on the American government, or voluntary book clubs.  We concluded, proudly, that we had become experts at being Ridgeview students.

The teacher in the room responded to our somewhat facetious conversation: “Maybe, but what kind of students were you?”

In other words, did we become experts at cutting corners? Did we become experts at giving the teachers ‘what they wanted to hear?’ A student who diligently avoids work and does the bare minimum becomes an accomplished avoid-er rather than an expert worker.

Did we simply become more responsive to the concern of parents and teachers, or did we become self-sufficient and internally motivated?   Did we become thoughtful contributors? Did we become expert thinkers and writers? Did we become students who performed tasks with integrity in a timely manner?

My compatriot and I concluded that we had become the latter, but not overnight. There were times when we were remarkably inconsistent. Some days, we came to school because we had to and others, because we loved to. Some days, we did the bare minimum while others we went above-and-beyond. But, generally, we continued to get better.

Although my upper school years were marked with academic consistency, my elementary years were not. Mrs. Busek, my fifth grade teacher and, later, guardian, remarked that I would turn in thoughtful reading journals sometimes, and, at others, sloppy assignments clearly done in the PAC right before class. Although I sometimes performed well, I was not yet the kind of person that performed well.

When I first came to Ridgeview, my third grade teacher placed my desk near the back of the room so that I could see how the other students raised their hands before they spoke.  Although still energetic, my contributions senior year were tempered with virtues I had practiced since arriving at Ridgeview.

I spent many recesses during my first year working with my math teacher. I turned in drafts of papers whenever permitted, and in multiples if possible. I visited teachers during study hall, formed study groups and traded essays with other students. I took classes in subjects I loved as well as those I was less affectionate toward, and I got better at both.

For current students, I must present this: if, in 7 or so years at Ridgeview, you become an expert at being a student, what kind of student will you be? What habits and choices would direct you towards attaining the expertise you desire? What changes do you need to make, or do you simply need to continue?

As Jamie Randall puts it, becoming better meant, “Coming to the realization that everything is full of wonder and everything changes, including our perception. Both of those facts about the world (and people) offer endless learning opportunities, and an expert student knows how to access them.”

Little changes accumulate quickly over 10,000 hours — changes in attitude, in effort, in habit. Thus, I must ask: how will your 10,000 hours define you?

 

No matter who we supported in this year’s election, we are all can breathe a sign of relief that the campaigning is over. With no more commercials and no more debates,  only a few stickers and yard signs remain. Now is a time to reflect not simply on the issues, but on the system itself.

For almost two and a half centuries, the United States has held presidential elections. The original system involved voting for men rather than teams, with first place earning the presidency and the “runner-up” taking the vice presidency as outlined in Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution. In 1804, the Twelfth Amendment introduced the idea of voting for the two separate offices to combat issues in dividing votes in the electoral college. This developed into running mates as we know them today.

The Federalist Papers defend the original Constitution. All the states agreed that the Articles of Confederation were too weak, but they did not agree on what the new Constitution ought to look like. The Federalists believed that the government was not going to be powerful enough while the anti-federalists believed the Constitution took authority from the states. Federalist Paper  No. 84 addressed  the three main objections of the Anti-Federalists:  the lack of Bill of Rights, the large power given to the centralized government, and differing interests of the Union.

Concerning the last, the author writes: “It ought also to be remembered that the citizens who inhabit the country at and near the seat of government will, in all questions that affect the general liberty and prosperity, have the same interest with those who are at a distance; and that they will stand ready to sound the alarm when necessary, and to point out the actors in any pernicious project. The public papers will be expeditious messengers of intelligence to the most remote inhabitants of the Union.”* This claim presents interesting questions about both government and media. For instance: were there more disparate interests among the states than there are among them today? Do the states have more in common now, given modern politics, economics, and military? Can the media be relied upon to communicate issues?

Indeed, elections show both the wisdom and fallibility of our founding fathers. While their foresight astounds, the distance between our time and theirs is shocking. While they certainly anticipated many of the republic’s struggles, they never could have predicted the mass media’s role in modern elections. The media focuses on hot-button issues, driven by glossy headlines and “search engine optimization.” How much do we really know about the government and what it has done in the last 4, 8, or even 20 years?

I must also propose that America’s media does not communicate global issues, focusing exclusively on its own internal conflicts. Other nations are better informed than we are. Whether this is because the states have disparate interests, because the American media only portrays what it wants us to know, because the American people only seek out information that confirms their own beliefs, or some combination of all of these, American citizens need to learn to be better global citizens. Although it may be meaningless to elaborate on the Founding Fathers’ beliefs, I doubt that they thought it possible to be as detached from Europe as we have become, all the while being involved in every facet of its politics.

Perhaps Franklin’s “A republic, madam, if you can keep it,”** has become an anachronistic rebuke. Or, perhaps it encourages us to preserve the system. Nonetheless, education and reflection are more important than they have ever been. And, for those who who see this as their duty, citizenship is both a privilege and a right.

*The Federalist Papers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, Rethinking the Western Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, ©2009), 1, accessed November 8, 2016, https://books.google.com/books?id=ujCo7VKRT_sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=federalist+paper+84&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiK1uuH05nQAhWLrFQKHaF-CxgQ6AEIGzAA#v=onepage&q&f=false.

**Legend has it that a woman asked Franklin, as he was leaving the Constitutional Convention, what kind of government they had made. His retort, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it” has become famous. The original quotation is difficult to locate.

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