Seniors participate in Humanities Symposium

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By: Jacqueline Woo and Rachel Sage Zhang, staff writers

On Wednesday, May 23, students of all grades gathered at Queens College’s Rosenthal Library to attend the fourth annual Humanities Symposium. Students went to the symposium in their humanities classes: English and history. Seniors in the Humanities Seminar Bridge Year program were selected to present at the symposium, which showcases their ability to analyze themes in literary texts. This year’s theme was villainy and power. With support from Queens College professors and THHS teachers, seniors in the class presented throughout the day in front of their peers and faculty members. At the end of the day, there was an award ceremony for the seniors that presented in the symposium.

The preparation for such a thorough and analytical presentation was extensive. Senior Ashley Zhao, who presented at the symposium, explained, “All of our presentations took months to prepare, and everyone did phenomenally at the symposium. Ms. Chung, Professor Merino, and Professor Norton helped my group to build our presentation bit by bit, advising us on the topic and texts we chose to discuss, suggesting articles and other effective means of research, and ultimately reviewing our final presentation.”

The support from Humanities Seminar faculty and alumni was crucial in developing student presentations. Senior Jonathan Sun added, “We had a lot of guidance from Professor Richie about which texts to examine and which portions to focus on in depth. We also had a lot of guidance from Professor Norton and Ms. Chung on other factors of our presentation such as visuals and how to organize our presentation.”

Senior Aaron Fernando continued, “I wasn’t really sure where to begin, so I asked Akash Singh, an alumni from two years ago, if I could take a look at his presentation before I started mine. Like his, I decided to make mine as minimalistic as possible with as few words on-screen at any given point, with most of the information conveyed verbally. And being a lover of good graphic design, I was careful to make sure all the little things were aligned, which was a lot of work but paid off in the end.”

The presentations were based on ideas that they found interesting throughout the year. English teacher Dr. Brian Brewer stated, “We all tried something new this year … which is to have small student groups create their own reading lists for the spring semester in response to a single Symposium topic, which this year was ‘Villainy and Power.’” Aaron recalled, “My presentation was essentially based on my essay for Brave New World that I wrote in class and was based upon my thought process after discovering that the author, Aldous Huxley, was actually a eugenicist and that his book was not, in fact, a satire of eugenics movements of the time.” Ashley remarked, “Our presentation allowed us to combine everything that we had learned from our seminar discussions throughout the year with our own interests and analyses on the different texts, themes, and characters.”

While actually presenting, seniors described some struggles that they dealt with in their presentations as well as how they were able to overcome them.  “A big challenge was deciding what we wanted to focus on; 10 minutes is not a lot of time, so all of us had to figure out a way to condense our topic in a way that allowed us to get our point across while also making sense and not going on for too long,” expressed Ashley. Within a limited time frame, seniors narrowed down their topics to get their points across with clarity while still generating interest. Another issue faced was presenting to a large audience. Jonathan disclosed, “We were the first group to go, so there was a lot of anxiety,  and it wasn’t easy to stand up there and speak to such a large crowd. Thankfully, my group mates were naturally talented public speakers whereas I’m not as comfortable. We did run out of time and rushed a bit so we didn’t quite get through everything we wanted to, but overall I think it went well.”

I thought the presentations turned out very well. Since our students have been creating and delivering presentations since freshman year, I for one have counted on students’ prior experience preparing slides and delivering presentations … With regard to the actual material, I found each of the presentations I attended thought-provoking and worthy of the podium,” Dr. Brewer commented. “My only criticism might be that some teams tried to present as much of their term paper as possible, which led to a superficial treatment of a lot of ideas. We strongly advised students to narrow their focus to the one idea in their paper that would appeal the most to an audience, and to treat it with more depth,” he added.

While looking back at the symposium and the class as a whole, seniors recommended the experience. Aaron said, “You’re required to do Humanities, but the symposium is definitely worth it even though it’s not required. There are also monetary prizes, which is always a plus.” Ashley added, “I would definitely recommend this class to future students. It can be a lot of work sometimes, but I believe that the discussions that I’ve participated in and the ideas that I’ve learned will stick with me throughout college and beyond.” Dr. Brewer affirmed the success and effectiveness of this course, saying, “I was impressed by the breadth of scholarship indicated, and felt that our focus this spring on research and secondary sources, which was the main reason for the redesign of the semester, paid off well for the students.”