Ninth annual Humanities Symposium features presenters, audience members from across Queens


Katherine Lian

A group of senior panelists at the annual Humanities Symposium.

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On May 24 and 25, the ninth annual Townsend Harris Humanities Symposium took place at Rosenthal Library at Queens College. The symposium provides an opportunity for seniors taking the Humanities Seminar course at QC to display their literary analysis skills developed with the help of both Queens College professors and THHS teachers. This year’s symposium, called Eat the Rich, focused on the role of class and social hierarchies in literature. 

This also marked the first time that another school participated in the Humanities Symposium, as three presentations were done by students who attend Information Technology High School. In addition, multiple other schools attended as audience members. According to English teacher (and Classic Advisor) Brian Sweeney, who oversaw outreach to other schools, this is part of a long-term goal of establishing THHS as the hub of a yearly event that involves multiple schools from across Queens (and possibly the city).

The presenters were judged by a QC professors, THHS teachers, some outside visitors from other schools, and a group of juniors in the audience who ranked groups in the categories of Best Research, Best Presentation, Best Close Reading, Best Overall, and more. Junior Hellen Olivera, a judge, said that the most interesting part of judging the seniors was seeing “the versatility of the topics” because although “all projects fell under the ‘Eat the Rich’ umbrella, they all had an original component to them.”

The judging of the Humanities Symposium resulted in six winners and four runner-ups. The Interscholastic Award was awarded to Jax Trivino-Moreno, Brian Martinez Flores, and Brian Hernandez from Information Technology High School for their presentation on “Economic Inequalities in Hamlet.”

The winners of the Best Research Award were Allen Babakhanov, Arianna Caballero, Matthew Goldstein, and Arietta Xylas who presented on “Art or Asset: The Economics of Creativity Through Kazuo Ishiguro’s Clones.”

Senior Allen Babakhanov said, “The best part of doing the symposium is working with your groups to unify all of your ideas into interesting cohesive slides, which can be, in a way, cathartic and rewarding.”

The Best Presentation Award was awarded to Estella Chan, Elliot Heath, Amelia Jacobson-Yang, Devin Wu, and Lana Yepifanova for their presentation on “Caregiving Calamities: Intertwining Power with Parenting in Succession and King Lear.”

Senior Lana Yepifanova said, “Mr. Sweeney guided us on the process of clarifying our thesis and making it unique. We did seminars, research notes, and several drafts of the paper… [my] group was [also] warm, supportive, and caring.” 

The winners of the Best Close Reading Award were Ariana Balanta, Valery Gaona, Aissatou

Lam, and Scarlet Perez who presented on “Bon Appetit! A Seat At the Table: Community as a Way to Socially Climb Despite Cultural Inequalities.”

The Judges Award was given to Meha Dhyani, Jamie Alfaro, Genessa Kahn, Emma Joa, Jessica Lin, and Brian Judge for “Legacy: the Contingency of Perspective in Hwang Sok-Yong’s At Dusk.” 

Finally, the Best Overall Award was given to Mary Kirk, Ivy Li, Cora-Grace Sagario, Kristen Song, and Youssef Abdelfatah for their presentation on “Drifting Between Princehood and Pauperdom: The Struggle for Identity at the Heart of Twain.”

The seniors who presented in the symposium each interpreted the themes quite differently. Senior Alex Cho said, “We wanted to depart from the standard interpretations of Eat the Rich,” so their group decided to take information from one of their members’ research on “the model minority myth” to further explore the theme.

Participants also had different experiences in the process of preparing their research for the symposium. Allen said, “The process of creating [our presentation] was pretty long and my group often changed around what exactly we wanted to focus on.”

In order for Alex’s group to condense their long research papers, they “created a script, making sure to include the most important themes, and then worked on the slideshow, making sure that it was aesthetic.”

The seniors who participated in the class said that they learned a lot about time management, communication, and the research process. Alex said,“[I learned] what is and isn’t acceptable to include in an academic paper” and “the process of writing a college-level paper.”

“The best part was definitely getting to work with my group. The beginning was a bit rough, but once we worked through our communication and collaboration issues, we bonded a lot over the symposium,” said senior Julia Xia.

For the other grades, all of whom watched the presentations, many felt that viewing the event got them excited to participate in their senior year. Sophomore Madison Donenfeld said, “I really enjoyed seeing the work that the seniors created since I will be doing a similar project in a few years.”