To Eagles Preparing for Senior Year: Commit to Writing a Senior Thesis

This is a fourth in a series, titled “Letter to an Eagle,” in which I author a letter to past, current, and/or future students of Boston College, expressing my views on my beloved alma mater, advising on surviving and thriving at The Heights, and sharing personal stories from my collegiate (and law school) days.

This fourth letter is addressed to current juniors of Boston College who are making preparations for senior year.


Dear Eagles Preparing for Senior Year,

After three years of hard work, I know it’s tempting to look at your final year in college as the last hurrah before you have to face the realities of the real world.  Workdays, bills and taxes await you after graduation, and I don’t blame you for wanting to make the most (or perhaps the least) out of your senior year.  Heck, with the college itself requiring one fewer course in each semester of your senior year, it’s almost as if the school itself is encouraging you to take it easy.  I certain took the hint and earned only nine credits my first semester of senior year.

It’s with that understanding that I urge you to commit now to writing a senior thesis.  It is one educational priority that Harvard, which requires each graduate to write a thesis, got right (although in typical Harvard fashion, it got wrong even something it got right by permitting people to double-major but requiring them to write two theses).

It is clichéd, but also true: the process of writing a thesis will provide you with a set of skills that will prove valuable in a way that knowing about Roman history never could.  For the most of you, a senior thesis will be the grandest project you will tackle in college.  There will be an advisor to guide you through the way, but the project will ultimately be yours to plan, execute and complete.  The process of taking a vague theme that you are interested in and turning it into a scholarly work in written form will be daunting in ways you can’t imagine.  A task as simple as selecting the subject matter and formulating your main argument, the “thesis,” will alone take weeks of individual research and discussions with your advisor.

If my experience is any indication, writing the thesis will test your discipline, endurance and perseverance in ways that will induce panic.  I spent my final semester at Boston College either playing hide-and-seek with my advisor or holed up in Maloney Hall, frantically typing away instead of sleeping, eating or drinking.  It was perhaps the most painfully sleep and food-deprived couple weeks of my life, and I’m glad there was a professor who strongly encouraged me to experience it.  What I learned in that short time isn’t something that I could have learned by taking two more courses instead.

It is often said that the reward is in the journey, but in the case of a senior thesis, I think you’ll find that the ultimate destination is quite rewarding as well.  Such reward can be as shallow and vain as knowing that your accomplishment will be perpetually recognized.  Since a couple years ago, Boston College has hosted a depositary where you can upload your thesis to join the ranks of other fine scholarly work produced by Boston College alumnus, including yours truly.  And because the depositary is available for public search, you may one day achieve the ultimate glory of having your work cited by someone else on the Internet.

A senior thesis, though, will become much more than a leading item to place in your resumé under your “Education,” which is to say that it will be more substantively meaningful than the double major that you chased against my advice.  It will be a rare opportunity for you to establish a specialty without going to grad school and despite attending a general studies liberal arts school.  It will become the simple answer to the question, “what did you accomplish in college?”

Of course, the finished product will ultimately be a work of an undergraduate that is unlikely to be of the caliber that is worthy of a presentation at an academic conference.  But it’s equally true that whatever topic you end up writing on, you will end up being in a very exclusive club by the end of the process, for you will be one of only a handful of people in the world who has the knowledge to provide meaningful insight on the subject.  It is a natural consequence of dedicating an entire year to researching, analyzing and writing on a very specific topic, even if it is as seemingly irrelevant as whether Jon Stewart is really a journalist (apparently he is not).

And if your experience of writing a thesis becomes as fulfilling as it has been for me, it will prove to be something that will affect you long after you graduate because it will form a part of an ongoing journey that you will build on for the rest of your life.  My career after Boston College has taken me far away from Japanese elections, but the topic remains my passion.  It is the one subject that I continue to study up on on a daily basis no matter how busy I get.  It has become a core part of who I am, because it is something that I spent an entire year breathing.

So make your senior year not only memorable but also impactful.

Write a thesis.


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