News Center

News from the Reed College public affairs office

The Turning of the Thesis

By Romel Hernadez on May 07, 2013 12:14 PM

thesis board

Making thesis deadline also entitles seniors to add their names to the thesis board outside the registrar's office. Photo by Eren Veziroglu ’16

Sociology major Brittany Wideman ’13 nudges the stack of paper across the counter and takes a deep breath. Her senior thesis, representing a year of intensive work (and two all-nighters over the past week), is now in the hands of the registrar’s office. More specifically, the hands of graduation specialist Mark Fowler, whose job it is to check over the final drafts of the theses to make sure that they conform to style guidelines: title page formatted properly, page numbers in the correct spot, adviser signature on the right line, etc.

As Brittany holds her breath, Mark scans through the pages. At last he lifts his gaze and smiles: “That looks perfect.”

At that moment, office staff members break out in a cheer, tooting horns, and shaking noisemakers, as a gong sounds in the registrar’s annex office across the hallway. Brittany places a wreath of plastic laurels on her head, then scribbles her name on a Zippy the Squirrel sticker and posts it on the thesis bulletin board. “I’m not in reality right now,” she says to the group of well-wishers surrounding her. “I’m elated—tired, too. Reed has given me so much for these four years, and this is my magnum opus.”

The joyous milestone Brittany experienced was repeated, more or less, 318 times last week as seniors turned in the final draft of their theses in what has become a campus rite of passage. The celebration has evolved over the last quarter century, said associate registrar John Colgrove ’86. During the ’80s, the office started passing out T-shirts to the students who turned in theses in winter, to make up for the fact that their thesis parade would not take place until spring. In the ensuing years, thesis submission has grown into its own tradition.

“We enjoy celebrating with the students—it’s a big accomplishment,” John said. It has become a big deal to students, too, who take great pride in earning their laurels and use them to decorate their mortarboards for commencement.

As the final deadline looms, however, the scene grows increasingly edgy at the registrar’s office. Some students wait until the last minute. Not infrequently, they have made some mistake in their formatting and are turned away to renumber pages, or something of the sort. The line outside the office stretches into the hallway and every staffer helps check papers so the seniors can join the parade that will move from outside the Hauser Library to inside Eliot Hall by late afternoon.

Whether a thesis is turned in days ahead or seconds before the official 3 p.m. Friday deadline, every single thesis is celebrated at the registrar’s office and seniors readily react to the celebration.

“In six years of doing this,” said Mark, “I’ve seen pretty much every emotion, and tears go along with all of them.”