That quaking at Carson High was senior projects

Most of us remember what it took to graduate from high school. Show up.

Oh, sure, we generally did a lot more than that. We kept our grades up, turned in our term papers on time (or within a few days of the deadline, anyway), played in the band or helped build sets for the school play or created some frightening chemistry experiment that, to this day, leaves a stain on the ceiling.

But few of us had to do what Carson High School students were doing this week: Stand in front of a panel of strangers to deliver an eight- to 12-minute speech on a senior project.

I was among some 270 old fogeys from the community who wandered into Carson High this week long enough to give our opinions on the seniors' portfolios and speeches.

OK, I apologize. Not all the 270 panel members are old fogeys. I just know that any time I walk down the halls of a high school, I feel about three times older. It's much better for my attitude when I visit a nursing home.

The senior projects are required for graduation and, boy, the students sure look forward to them with glee. In fact, every single portfolio or speech I saw or heard started with, "I was so looking forward to my senior project and couldn't wait to get started ...."

And if you believe that, you'll believe each and every one of the seniors was calm and collected on Tuesday and Wednesday when they stood in front of those panels of strangers to make their speeches. Or maybe it was something in the water. Oh, sorry.

No, the truth is students dreaded the projects and dreaded the speeches. I suspect the reason it was windy in Carson City this week can be attributed to the huge sighs of relief coming from seniors, parents and more than a few teachers when they were done.

Take this example from one of the portfolios I reviewed, as the student described the biggest influence on his research paper. "What influenced me most when writing my paper was the fact it was due the next day and I had to finish it."

Bring back any high school memories?

I also found, though, nearly every student came to realize, after all the groaning and grumbling, they learned something. And they had a profound sense of accomplishment.

"I'm sorry I procrastinated," said one of the students, Sarah Uhlmeyer, during her speech on veterinary medicine, "because once I got started I really enjoyed learning about it."

Now there's a lesson she will carry far beyond high school.

People can debate graduation requirements and test scores and the state of education in America today all they want. Senior projects are a good thing. (Please, Carson High juniors and sophomores, don't TP my house.)

With more than 400 seniors doing projects, the ideas run the gamut. The students I saw learned to play guitar, wrote music, watched a vet perform surgery and practiced cosmetology.

Their abilities also covered a broad spectrum. It was clear, however, each one stretched those abilities to complete their projects. It's in the doing.

One more benefit of senior projects can't be denied. The judging panels help drag people into Carson High School who may not otherwise be involved with many students. We get a chance to meet new people. We get a chance to read their research papers. And we get to give them grades.

Of course, there are hundreds of parents who are closely involved with all kinds of high-school activities. But the senior projects are one more way to forge links with community members. It's not enough just to show up. You have to participate.

One of the reasons they're good for us, too, is to be reminded of the energy and anticipation that come with being a high-school senior, of the seemingly endless opportunites ahead of them and, at the same time, the seemingly insurmountable frustrations confronting all teenagers.

We're sure they'll come through it just fine, because we did. They just don't know it yet.

In reading the research papers, I came across one in which the spelling, punctuation and grammar were riddled with mistakes. Parts of it were difficult to understand. Clearly, the student was having a hard time with English as her second language, and I had to give the paper a low score on its technical merits.

Still, I took a moment to jot down a sentence.

"I am going to be able to graduation because my mom always dreamed with the day of my graduation and be able to receive my diploma."

That's not how I would have written it. But I understood perfectly.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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