LAUNCH. Honors Diploma Program. LAUNCH Committee. Honors Seminar. Honors Thesis. LAUNCH Presentation. Thesis Presentation. LAUNCH Day. LAUNCH Week. LAUNCH Fest. I was even once called the LAUNCH Guy by a colleague who lapsed on my name.
The associations and nicknames at the intersection of the student event called LAUNCH and the academic program that is the Honors Diploma Program can get pretty crowded. For anyone who has arrived at Episcopal in the last four years or so, their differences may not even be noticeable. I hope this blog will highlight the unique way both contribute to an inclusive culture of learning at Episcopal. Subsequent blogs by better writers, and more worthy people than me, will share further details about LAUNCH 2018 and the Thesis Class of 2018. But as the LAUNCH Guy, I wanted to share my perspective--to share what each is and means to me.
Over the last ten years, Mrs. Sutcliffe and I have evolved Episcopal’s version to respond to the needs of each new crop of 21st century Baton Rouge students. We’ve incorporated things like character education and community building, to name a few. While there have been defeats and frustrations, Thesis has been the most exhausting and inspiring work I’ve done. It has shaped my philosophy as a teacher--to value process, not product, and to respect each student’s potential as equally deserving, if not equally measured.
LAUNCH, on the other hand, developed as the brainchild of Mrs. Sutcliffe’s first Thesis students. Their proposal envisioned a TEDx modelled day that celebrated student achievements. They campaigned for it and executed it themselves that year. While Thesis has served as the backbone of its participants, LAUNCH’s purpose was for any student to celebrate the achievements of each other. It was an inspired response to the need to honor student experiences. (Click here to read an interview with the original LAUNCH organizers Charles Cooper '14 and Adam Clausen '14.)
In the years since its first LAUNCH in 2014, it has accumulated other traditions that aim to celebrate student success in STEM and the arts. In my opinion, it’s most successful when it is most inclusive because it reminds us that both learning and joy aren’t exclusive to one student or experience at Episcopal. Subsequent LAUNCHes in 2015, 2016, and 2017 emphasized this.
LAUNCH and Thesis are both passions of mine. But each has their limitations. It takes sacrifice for a student to commit to two years of Thesis and still not earn a transcript item as universally understood as *AP. Similarly, it can be thankless to participate in the planning of LAUNCH. So I’ve often asked myself why bother with either. What does LAUNCH do for Episcopal? What is Thesis really doing for students? I can’t deny the uncertainty in outcomes or the uncertainty in the value of their rewards. This can make them very difficult to rationalize.
And then LAUNCH happens, and I’m reminded that parents don’t send their children to Episcopal because they want a single outcome. They send them because they are inspired by the promise of their child. Offering just one thing is never enough. We must curate many challenges and opportunities for that promise to be realized. LAUNCH works to showcase those challenges and honor the child’s promise.
So what does it do for the student? In the white noise of “honors” programs that reverberate throughout schools, we really can’t know. It is difficult to gauge a personalized experience from the outside. And that's a shame because it costs the student the respect they deserve, not for their achievements but for their struggles. Episcopal students do a lot that cannot be easily translated. So since students dream as earnestly as they do recklessly, LAUNCH aims to find reasons to say yes to their ambitions.
This can make a mess because LAUNCH really is indulgent in the students’ risks. These risks though make LAUNCH more youthful and dynamic than a traditional academic conference. We’ve helped students drop balloons on their audiences. We’ve herded people into the darkness of a “blackout” theater. Personally, I’ve even sacrificed my beard (for that Class of 2014).And I don’t think this is foolish. I think it’s what everyone is owed.
The intersection of where LAUNCH and Thesis meet may be crowded. But without Thesis students, Episcopal would never have discovered LAUNCH. And without LAUNCH, Episcopal may never have realized the full potential of its own students' passions and aspirations. The upcoming LAUNCH presentations, aren’t just some final assessment. LAUNCH isn’t just some random chaotic event. This isn’t just the end of the Thesis process.
LAUNCH is the celebration of many things--a child’s promise, a parent’s inspiration, and an Episcopal student’s ambition. At least, that’s how the "LAUNCH Guy" sees it.
Click here for the 2018 LAUNCH schedule.