Last night, I went back to Hofstra (after graduating in December) for the induction ceremony for Phi Alpha Theta, a national honor society for history students. I figured I was just going to get a certificate, and that’d be that.
I did, indeed, get a nice certificate. But what I didn’t know was that I would also be receiving an award from the History Department: the Robert L. Payton Endowed Prize for Best Seminar Paper.
I was further unaware that the prize consisted of a check for $1,000. That’s pretty well endowed, all right.
I hope you’ll allow me a moment of self-indulgent horn-tooting.
Some details on the course and the research paper, in case you’re curious:
My history seminar, which I took during my final semester of school (Fall 2010), was called “Foundation of American Civil Liberties.” We studied a number of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment, and for our research paper, we had to explore a Supreme Court case that dealt with one of them.
I decided I would tackle the issue of school speech — that is, the right to free speech/expression that pre-college public-school students enjoy. I examined four different Supreme Court cases from the past thirty years. My thesis held that after giving the landmark definition of student-speech rights in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), the Court gradually scaled back those rights in three subsequent cases: Bethel v. Fraser (1986); Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988); and Morse v. Frederick (2007). I called it “Teach Me Free Speech: The Consequences of Declining Student Speech Rights.” Clever, eh? (Click here to download a copy and be bored out of your mind — unless you’re into American history and legal research!)
I didn’t initially realize how ambitious my topic really was, although I should’ve had an inkling when my professor, after looking over my extensive outline for the research paper, asserted that he could write a fifty-page paper with that outline. (The assignment’s required length was 20-25 pages. The text of my paper alone — not including bibliography, table of contents, etc. — came in just shy of 42 pages.)
While graduating from college would probably have to rank as the accomplishment I’m most proud of, I must say that it felt unbelievably awesome and tremendously gratifying to hear my professor — an elderly gentleman who has, I assume, been teaching for decades — say that my research paper was not only the best by far from this year’s crop of seminar papers, but one of the two best undergraduate research papers he’d ever read. I definitely did one of those head-whipping-around Jim Halpert reaction shots when those words left his mouth.
As for the money, I’m yet not entirely sure what I’m going to do with it. My brother, ever the sensible and fiscally responsible member of the family — he majored in economics — advised putting at least half of the check toward my credit card debt That would probably be the smart choice.
Then again… my econ smarts aren’t what got me here.