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, Bahamas, the Galapagos Islands), community service, and work experiences in law offices and private companies, some 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.
The goal of this month-long experience is to give students a chance to assimilate all that they have learned at Thayer into an internship that is intensely personal and will serve as a capstone to their time at Thayer. Whether it is working with the homeless, with children touched by AIDS, or in the office of a local politician, many senior projects either cultivate a new passion or nurture an existing one. Some projects — such as experiencing the inner workings of a Fortune 500 company, working in an engineering or law firm, or being a teacher’s aid — allow students to try something new and can lead to unexpected discoveries and direction for a college major or potential career.
The Senior Project program gives students a chance to exercise their intellectual curiosity and to explore specific opportunities on their own terms, and acts as a bridge between academia and the professional world. It builds a foundation of self-confidence that will serve our students well as they transition to college and the independence of living away from home.