What are Senior Passion Projects?

By Saffiyah Coker, Staff Writer, April 2020

The last day of classes in the third quarter historically brings particular excitement for seniors. Many say “thank you” to their teachers for the last time that semester. Senior Projects allow seniors to drop a class, or two, or even three, in exchange for working on a project or completing an internship. Projects range from internships in hospitals, assisting in an underclassmen class, conducting research, designing clothes, and many more.

But COVID-19 posed an immediate risk to in-person Senior Projects, compromising another aspect of the Class of 2020’s elusive senior spring. The coronavirus has already forced many adored and long-awaited Nobles traditions to a halt. But what about the time-honored tradition of senior projects?

At the end of March break, seniors were notified that all Senior Projects were canceled. Instead, seniors were given the option to do a Passion Project. Passion Projects could be anything from learning how to play an instrument, reading some books, practicing your cooking skills, or exploring an interest.

Class I Dean Kimberly Libby said, “We’re very aware of the amount of loss your [the senior] class has experienced. When it became more and more real how many events and special things were going to have to be evolved in a pretty unique way, we wanted to give students more of a choice.” She continued, “I think this is a time to take a breather, but also a time to take advantage of a passion or intellectual pursuit.”

Senior Projects are not the same as Senior Passion Projects. Senior Projects needed to be approved by a panel of faculty and pass the vetting process, which occurred before March break. They had to meet a level of complexity and rigor. Finally, a faculty advisor needed to ensure that the student was meeting deadlines. On the other hand, Passion Projects don’t require any faculty supervision and the guidelines are more general, only requiring students to submit 1-3 sentences detailing their project.

Rocky Batty (Class I) explained how he can now pursue a smaller project. “[Passion Projects] let you focus on something more laid back as opposed to normal senior projects where it had to be something bigger and more important,” he said.

Charlotte Epker (Class I) chose a meaningful project that has allowed her to make an impact on her community. “It’s called the ‘Front Porch Project,’” she explained. “I’m not sure who it was started by, but it has gone through different areas of the country. Photographers will offer to take pictures of families on their porches in exchange for a small donation towards a different charity.” Epker is raising money for the Dedham Food Pantry. She said, “I’ll be going house to house [in Dedham] and families are welcome to dress up with different themes or bring different pets into the picture.”

Some seniors are sticking to their same Senior Project plan, but are moving online due to the coronavirus. Bronwyn Jensen (Class I) will continue her internship for Congressman Joe Kennedy III, albeit modified. “They are calling me a ‘remote intern’ and my responsibilities are a lot less,” Jensen said. She explained why she chose not to change her project: “I felt that it was important for me to stay involved and not to just quit because it is hard.”

However, not all seniors can do the same as Jensen. Social distancing has created an obstacle for group Senior Projects. “We were making an album together in the same room,” said Wyatt Ellison (Class I) about his Senior Project with Finn Harrington (Class I), Finn Crawford (Class I), and Emre Yalcindag (Class I). Crawford said they were able to pivot: “The final product is pretty much the same, it’s just how we are going to do it has changed.” Harrington explained, “Before it was a lot more collaborative in the sense that we would come up with songs just by jamming together. But now, we have divided up the work more.” He spoke to his part in the group: “I’m in a creative writing class with Ms. Libby and for my fourth quarter project, I’m lyric-writing. So, she is looking over it. Any lyrics you hear from this album will be Ms. Libby approved.”

With the new Passion Project plan, seniors who weren’t doing a Senior Project before now have another chance to pursue their interests. Angela Giordano (Class I) said, “I was excited because I wanted to be able to do [a Senior Project], but I got rejected in the first round.” She is now learning sign language. “I hopefully want to minor in speech pathology in college, and I feel like sign language would help a lot with that,” she said. Similarly to Giordano, Joe Todd (Class I) was not doing a senior project: “I was 0 for 4 in Senior Project proposals.” Now, he gets the chance to explore a variety of interests. He said, “I’m doing a documentary on quarantine, calling it ‘The Home’ and it’s a remake of ‘The Office,’ I’m learning the ukulele with Rocky Batty, and I’m cooking.”

Senior year can be hectic with the college process and other commitments. But suddenly, seniors have an abundance of free time –– and an opportunity to do something with it –– during this quarantine. “I don’t know if you are ever going to have another point in your life where you are going to have two to three months free to try stuff out and learn about different things,” Head of Upper School Michael Denning said.

Harrington said, “All these Passion Projects are things that seniors want to do. What has eluded people before has been finding the time, but everyone is in quarantine so [they] can do it now.” Yalcindag touched on another aspect of the Passion Projects: “It’s also another chance to learn accountability before we go off to college. It’s all based on us choosing to do it and actually doing it.”

Even if you aren’t a senior, you can still use this time to start something new. Build a scale model, write a book, practice meditation, spend time with family members, learn the banjo, or read a book (or ten!). As Denning said in his letter to the Parent Association, “You have been given an unexpected gift of time: how will you use it?”

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