Senior Projects

Part of Thayer Academy’s mission statement is to promote “excellence so that each may rise to honorable achievement and contribute to the common good.” Never was that ideal more evident than in 1972 when the Thayer Academy Community Council, fresh off the adoption of a new constitution and mission statement themselves, proffered the idea of month-long, off-campus projects in May for select members of the senior class. In the first eight years of the voluntary program, over 120 seniors took advantage of the opportunity to expand their learning experience outside the traditional classroom. The program grew each year until Headmaster Peter Benelli approved its expansion to all seniors and made participation a graduation requirement.

Project proposals were, and still are, as diverse as the seniors themselves. Early projects included collecting flora in New Hampshire, writing music for local conservatories, and working for representatives on Boston’s Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill in Washington. Many recent projects are similar to those early endeavors, but the program has expanded to include numerous subject-related foreign trips (France, Peru, Greece, Italy, the Galapagos Islands), community service, and work experiences in law offices and private companies, many of which are owned by Thayer parents and alumni.

Thayer Academy has been on the cutting edge among ISL schools in offering non-traditional educational experiences, and the Senior Project Program has served as a model for similar programs in other independent schools. The program has proven to be a meaningful transitional experience between high school and college, providing Thayer seniors with opportunities to increase their self-reliance, give back to the community, and contribute to the common good.

Nick Hanflig ‘16, Trip to Cusco, Peru, Juan Pablo II Orphanage

Violet Pinola ‘16, Intern at the Schwartz Center for Children, a school for children with disabilities

To say that my senior project was the best experience of my life would be an understatement. This past month has been a very different experience. I walked into a building in which, at first, I felt lost and hopeless. I had no idea that in the next four weeks the children in this school would change my life. I had idea that I would learn that education doesn’t have to be just Math and English, but learning something as simple as brushing one’s teeth or standing up. Choosing to work at the Schwartz Center for Children was the best decision of my life, and has ensured me of my double major [elementary education and special education].

Tafari Scott ‘16, Philadelphia Service trip, St. Francis Inn, a homeless shelter

There were a few days when we were assigned to the clothing distribution room. There was one man who I met who was eligible for just about every item on the list: underwear, shirt, shoes, jacket, etc. I took time to find what he liked because we were told beforehand that we should always try to give people a choice. He was very appreciative and gave me a fist bump before bidding me goodbye. An hour later, when lunch was being served, I saw the same man again. He told me to have a good day as I finished cleaning his table, and I said “you too.” He then said, “I will, thanks to you.” That was the moment I realized the impact that I was making on people.

Kelsey Farden ‘16, Trip to Cannes, France & Lycee Stanislas

Spending eight days living and speaking with a French family in Cannes was the ultimate culmination of my four years of French at Thayer. No classroom activity will ever be the same as sitting at the dinner table where a mother, father, and two daughters speak casually, fluently, and fluidly about their days, discuss politics and regional issues, and tell jokes that you will never hear in any AP exercise. Hearing authentic French everywhere I went was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and my comprehension and ability to understand and respond was tested daily.

Shaliyah Dixon ‘16, Philadelphia Service trip, St. Francis Inn, a homeless shelter

I’ve never been inside of a homeless shelter before, and I didn’t walk in with any expectations. A lady with black hair walked in after me, her furrowed eyebrows suggesting she wasn’t having the best day. She yelled a few swears and frustratedly kicked the door open to a room. No one should judge anyone who doesn’t fit their description of normal. Almost everyone has a certain image of how a homeless person is supposed to look. The first thing that might pop into your head is an old man with a beard and a hoarse voice. But that’s far from true. I saw kids in there that are as young as I am.

Michelle Quinlisk ‘16, Trip to Beiking, Hangzhou, Shanghai, China

Whether hiking the famous Great Wall of China, climbing the stairs of the pagoda overlooking West Lake, or staying overnight in a Chinese home, my senior project trip was not only culturally and historically enlightening, but it also gave me the opportunity to prove to myself that I was able to reach beyond what I deemed a “comfortable situation.” Hesitant to travel abroad for nearly two weeks, thousands of miles away from my family (the farthest and longest I had ever been), I now reflect on my senior project. I'm so grateful that I was given the opportunity and grateful that I was encouraged to take advantage of it. While at times, I confess I missed my mom’s spaghetti and meatballs as I attempted a bite of native cuisine such as duck’s tongue, the trip was beyond my expectations and the experiences were life altering.

Holly Doyle ‘16, Trip to Cusco, Peru, Juan Pablo II orphanage

The kids flooded the front play area of the orphanage and swarmed our group before I could even look up to see where I was. I’ll never forget how excited they were to see us, hug us, and talk to us without even knowing the 12 of us beforehand. The kids immediately started reaching for the bubbles and chalk I had brought to play with. I figured they would take the toys and use them with their friends; however, I was surprised to see that they wanted me to blow bubbles and draw pictures on the ground with them. Little did I know that this would not be the last time on the trip where people I met appreciated simple moments more than simple or material things.

The ayni concept in Incan and Peruvian culture explains this observation perfectly. Ayni, or reciprocity as we call it, emphasizes a society in which there is cooperation among one another and everyone lives “hoy para ti, manan para mi” {today for you, tomorrow for me}. I saw this in the orphanage when the orphans care more about playing with us as a group than just with the toys.

Jessica Dyroff ‘16, Statehouse internship and Trip to Greece

The trip to Greece was perhaps my favorite experience at Thayer (excluding the 11-hour plane ride there and back, of course), and one that I will surely remember for the rest of my life. After having taken Latin for seven years and studying ancient Greek and Roman history all along the way, actually being able to visit and see the sites that I have been learning about for so long was a truly moving experience. Latin is often called a ‘dead language’ and up until two weeks ago, I had always accepted this as an accurate description...Yet, after this trip, I now see that Latin is far from dead-- rather it has been concealed, infused into almost every present culture across the globe.

Colby Hoffman ‘16, Greater Boston Food Bank and trip to Cannes, France & Lycee Stanislas

Each of my experiences during my Senior Project have made me realize all of the connections that I have been able to create through Thayer both local and abroad. Without the direction from Jay Hooley, a Thayer parent, I would have never heard about the Greater Boston Food Bank’s volunteer opportunities and the role that the organization plays in ending hunger close to home. In addition, my host family’s son, Alex was also a correspondent on the exchange last year (with Thayer’s sister school Lycee Stanislas). Thanks to the years-long relationship between the two sister schools, there is a family in the south of France who I have connected with in such a special way, and who has also had two children experience the place we cherish back on Washington Street. Lastly, I don’t think that there are many other students out there who get to walk around and shop the streets of Paris alongside a news producer as cool as Erin Lyall ‘97, who shared with me the current details of her career and how Thayer has helped shape her into the woman she is today. After the Senior Project this spring I can say with confidence that Thayer really does have a ripple effect on each of its students, and I feel very lucky to be a part of it all.

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