Senior projects offer uplifting glimpse into our society's future

It goes in phases, I suppose.

One day, I’m feeling down about future generations of Americans – the irresponsible pinheads who are going to get the keys to the country in a few years. The next day, I’m encouraged that we still have a fighting chance.

I rode that roller coaster just this past week.

You probably saw the same two stories I saw in the papers:

• Three Evans teens were charged with second-degree burglary after police arrested them in connection with vandalized portable classrooms at Evans Elementary School last weekend.

• An Augusta 17-year-old was arrested and charged with placing four 911 calls to report fictitious local shootings. When deputies found the guy, according to reports, they asked 911 to call back the number from which the fake calls had been placed. That’s when the guy’s phone started buzzing in his pocket.

Neither of those incidents contributed anything positive to society. Nobody was spiritually uplifted. Nobody’s life was improved. It was just hollow, time-wasting idiocy.

And these teens are part of the generation that’s going to be running the world when you and I are old.

But don’t worry yourself into insomnia just yet. I said part of the generation. I felt a lot better about the future after seeing the other part.

I HELPED JUDGE senior projects at Greenbrier High School last week. All of Columbia County’s high schools require their 12th-graders to research a compelling topic, write a detailed paper on it and complete a hands-on “product,” with a mentor, that connects with the topic. Students most often create a product, perform a community service or learn a new skill.

All of it is documented in a portfolio that judges examine before grading the student’s final oral presentation.

It’s excellent preparation for the type of work colleges expect out of their students. It spurs seniors to fine-tune organizational skills and speaking skills. And a thick portfolio that chronicles months of hard work can be an eye-catching plus for a college admissions board.

Last Tuesday night I got to see six students at their best – poised, focused, dressed in their most tasteful clothes and eager to talk about subjects in which they’ve immersed themselves for nearly the entire school year.

One girl chose the topic of animal extinction, and job-shadowed a veterinarian. She got to help at an animal clinic and observe surgeries. During one procedure, a college student who also was observing suddenly fainted, so the high-school senior’s work experience unexpectedly got a lot more hands-on when she had to fill in to help neuter a cat.

She showed the judges a visual aid from that experience. I won’t tell you what that visual aid was – but hey, the cat sure didn’t need ’em any more.

A BOY WHO studied the correlation between fitness and injury-healing decided to learn kickboxing, then teach a kickboxing class himself. He explained to the judges that he wanted to learn how to handle himself during a physical confrontation – a desire he said was spurred partly by the defeats he’s suffered over the years at the hands of his sister.

So now that he knows kickboxing, one judge asked, has his sister stopped beating him up? “Not exactly,” he said, smiling. Apparently her senior project was to take up jiujitsu.

A girl who tutored inner-city elementary-schoolers researched the effect of broken homes on children’s education. Her cheery optimism would make you want to run out and tutor some kids yourself. But just as I was getting hopeful about her teaching in her own classroom someday, she revealed she would pursue a career in chemical engineering.

The projects’ creativity blew me away. One senior grew up in a household that loves to play board games. As he got older he branched out into playing Dungeons & Dragons and trading-card games such as Magic: The Gathering. While he studied the effects of games on human creativity, he created his own trading-card game and had it professionally printed and rendered on laminated cards. If you know how these card games work and how complicated they can get (hint: very), you can appreciate this kid’s work and attention to detail.

The seniors’ enthusiasm blew me away. A girl who was inspired by YouTube piano phenomenon Sunny Choi decided to expand her music hobby by taking piano lessons and learning basic music theory and music notation. She also researched the importance of “meaningful listening” to music – the enhanced, guided experience of exploring the nuances of different musical styles and what they symbolize.

Talk about enthusiasm – if there wasn’t a time limit on the presentations, we might still be in that classroom talking about her project.

As each student left after giving his or her presentation, I said “thank you” – and not as a throwaway pleasantry. I meant it. These are great kids. Thanks for giving us hope.

See, these are the ones who are going to help elevate the world – young people who are creating things and improving themselves, not tearing society down and causing chaos.

One teen chooses to visit an elementary school and tutor kids. Another teen chooses to visit an elementary school and trash a few classrooms.

When each teen becomes an adult, which one of them would you want helping guide our future?


Top headlines

Nuke supplier agrees to changes after cheating

ATLANTA - A manufacturer making parts for two nuclear plants in the Southeast has promised to better train its employees after investigators accused three workers of cheating on a qualification ...
Search Augusta jobs