“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change” - Brene Brown
On Friday, March 2, many of you saw what was a highly polished and professional (10 minute) expression of a student’s highly messy and complicated (long-term) process. There is beauty in such a performance, of course. But, there is also a risk when a student “makes it look easy.” “I didn’t actually realize how much goes into preparing for that moment until I went through it,” one student reflected after the fact. The story that isn’t always on display is one of struggle and failure and self-doubt -- the mess of learning -- or the joy and the pain as we often sing in Chapel during “The Splendor of Creation.” These stories of joy and pain tell a more complete version of the journey that led each student to their moment on Friday. So, rather than focus on the end-result, I want to share the mess because I think it honors Thesis students’ persistence and perseverance and grit. The sweetness of a beautifully executed presentation or a sophisticated thesis paper is a big deal and it means a lot. But what’s more profound in the long run, our students find, is the experience along the way and all the challenges and revisions and rewrites that tell the whole complicated story.
Our presenters are generous collaborators
What you may not know after experiencing LAUNCH was that Thesis presenters workshopped their content with their peers a total of 164 times. Not including, of course, all the times they rehearsed in the car or shower, in front of the bathroom mirror or with friends and family. “I keep catching myself giving my presentation in the shower or on the car-rides home. It has become my inner monologue at this point. I don’t know how to get rid of it and I’m not sure if I want to; this project is one that I really don’t ever want to forget. I don’t want to forget LAUNCH or this community, because it truly is one of the best things Episcopal has to offer,” writes one student.
principles, there is no handbook for how to create an authentic presentation. There is no step-by-step pour and mix recipe to build such a talk.This sort of wide-open and abstract task can cause anxiety, particularly for high achieving students who have always been so good at doing things the right way. What’s freeing in some ways but more difficult in others is the burden of generating your own content that includes the research you’ve done, and provides a relevant message you wish to share, all while trying to honor your most authentic persona and with no one telling you what you should do. This is unsettling at first for perfectionists and planners. But ultimately, this is one of the most rewarding parts, as students can truly say, I created that. “LAUNCH brought me clarity and taught me it’s okay to be me!” one student writes. “It has given me confidence and taught me it’s okay to be the real me.”
Our presenters are flexible visionaries who confront fear
Because of the highly personalized nature of such a process, presenters are encouraged to dream about every component of the presentation from the content down to the lights and seating arrangements. Their plans evolve, of course, and each student adapts. But behind any spotlights or props is a teenager facing other teenagers, practicing vulnerability. “LAUNCH taught me fearlessness. I’m not afraid to follow my passions, whatever they turn out to be,” a senior comments. “I never thought I would have been able to present to the entire school. I’ve always had social anxiety and feared too much about what others thought of me. I never thought I could overcome those fears. But I did on LAUNCH Day.”
The process is long and messy, the moment short-lived. At the end of it all, there are powerpoints that crash, clickers that die, parts forgotten and legs that shake. “I learned that the perfectionist in me does not always have to be on high alert,” one comments. I am happy I did not "do perfectly." No one ever learns anything from perfection; you learn from realizing how to react to imperfections and maintain steady under-pressure.
Yet, the rewards are plentiful and come in many forms. “Teachers that have never taught me, like Dr. Jiang and Mrs. Pritchard, told me how much they enjoyed my presentation. To me, that is priceless,” a senior says. Another writes, “She walked up to me and said something along the lines of, ‘I just want to thank you for going up there and talking about that. As a person who struggles with this personally, it was amazing to have someone use a platform like this to raise awareness for issues like this.’”
Thank you for being a part of this moment with the Thesis class of 2018!
Visit and bookmark our LAUNCH web page to watch some of our student presentations. The LAUNCH website will be updated during the coming weeks with more videos of our student presenters.
Katie Sutcliffe has served in many capacities involving writing and service learning over the last six years at Episcopal. Currently, she directs the Thesis Program, teaching both Seminar juniors and Thesis seniors, and is the co-creator of LAUNCH, Episcopal’s annual TEDx-style student-planned and executed showcase of ideas and projects. Katie’s own history involves this blend of service and writing: after graduating from a small liberal arts college in Indiana with an English degree, she moved to the Deep South with Teach For America where she taught middle school English and worked passionately on issues of educational inequity. She later earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh and returned to Baton Rouge where she has continued freelance writing. Katie infuses social justice initiatives into her curricula and seeks to help her students make meaningful connections with those living a different experience within our larger community. She’s passionate about character education and project-based learning, as well as research and writing that