Senior projects were rough, but still impressive |

Senior projects were rough, but still impressive

Barry Ginter

It’s been three weeks since Carson High seniors finished what, for some of them, was the most traumatic experience of their young lives – presenting their senior projects to groups of frighteningly old and stoic judges.

Almost all of the seniors, I’m happy to say, survived and will graduate in a few weeks. But it was clear from the conversations after the students had left the classroom that the other judges on my panel weren’t impressed. The projects were better last year, they said.

There were myriad reasons, as I recall. Papers full of grammar and spelling errors, speeches with deeply buried points and robotic deliveries, a general lack of professionalism.

For me, it was the first time judging, so I had nothing to compare it to.

What I did discover, however, is that it was difficult for me to stay in the frame of mind of a judge. As I watched these fidgeting, awkward, barely audible teenagers, I could only see myself as a high school senior.

There’s a lot of talk about how teenagers are different these days. So much more is expected of them and they have to develop quickly to handle society’s pressures. Yet I recognized myself in them.

There were no senior projects at my high school. A student who so desired could skate by taking welding and auto shop. And believe me, I so desired.

Had there been a senior project requirement, it probably would have given me an ulcer. It would have been one of the worst things that could have happened to me. There would have been no way to hide in the back of the classroom, hoping for another day of going unnoticed.

In other words, a senior project could have changed my life a lot sooner than the demands of being an adult did it for me.

It would have forced me to find a mentor for whatever topic seemed least terrorizing to me. It probably wouldn’t have been original either. I would have been one of those students choosing to learn to play guitar (the most popular senior project at Carson High). But I would have done it nevertheless and a seed would have been planted … that I could do something that seemed impossible, and I could do it again and again.

That’s why I was probably the least critical judge on my panel. I agreed the grammar in some of the papers stunk, and a few of the speeches would have been drowned out had a piece of paper fluttered to the floor. I wouldn’t have hired them had these been job interviews.

But that wasn’t the point, at least not entirely.

What I saw was students confronting their fears and, despite their shortcomings and fears, taking their projects very seriously.

Well, at least four of them did. The fifth was a no-show and is presumably one of those who won’t be picking up his diploma.

My impression is that the senior projects are good things for all of the students, but they’re very good for the students who aren’t stars. That would have been me. By most accounts, I eventually turned out OK, but there were some years in there the issue was in doubt.

Like these students, I was an unfinished product waiting for a dose of self-confidence. And that to me is the value of senior projects.

Senior projects teacher Cheryl Macy said she heard from a couple of judges that the senior projects they judged were not as good as the ones from the previous year.

But there’s no way to extrapolate that to the entire class, and she believes this class as a whole did as good a job as any before it.

And there was one positive trend, she said, in that more kids are doing community-oriented projects than before, including fundraisers.

This was the sixth year for senior projects. Students write research papers, do at least 15 hours of fieldwork and give 8- to 2-minute speeches. Topics are far ranging, and include learning musical instruments, volunteering, auto repair and many more.

An immense amount of work goes into the projects not just by the students, but the teachers and coordinator who work on them. The judges – 364 of them this year – are also a critical part of the process, and there’s always a need for more.

If you’d like to be a judge next year, contact senior project coordinator Darlene Nevin at 283-1945 or e-mail to

• Barry Ginter is editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at or 881-1221.