BY JORDI FAXON
Isidoro Cosentino leaves his third period English class every day and sequesters himself to the music room. He’s not ditching class, but instead working on his senior English project, which he’s interpreting as an opportunity to finally write the album that he’s always wanted to write, touching on nature and transcendental values in 10 tracks he’s recording himself.
But this is far from the only possible interpretation of the assignment. Jacob Matiyevsky is spending his time researching a rare and expensive kind of silver dollar, a Toned Morgan Dollar, which from exposure to sulfur developed a rainbow tint, making it highly coveted by coin collectors. This has been an interest of the senior’s for a long time, and now he’ll get credit for making a website about his research on the topic.
Meanwhile, Colleen Lang is writing a series of blogs from the perspective of her dogs. She herself wrote an email to her English teacher saying that she was having fun and that it didn’t feel like work at all.
Some of you may cry out, “What happened to the rigid, stoic nature of academia? Where are the ninety-paged theses so customary to the ivy halls of the great universities?” But this year, English IV teachers Mike Palshaw and Hans Schmidt have been experimenting with a new assignment for their class called the Senior Writing Capstone, the requirements of which are, quite literally, to write whatever you want that will make your writing shine, acting as a counterbalance to the academic writing that marks most of the year in that this is the opportunity to have students display their writing in their own strongest suits.
“I came up with this idea that you have to write something that’s going to guarantee your success,” Schmidt explains, “and I mentioned that to Mr. Palshaw, and he liked it, and he went and ran with it. [He] made this incredible PowerPoint with examples and ideas. I think I had the idea, but he really put it into something tangible and visible that students could see.”
In Palshaw’s class, Jack Cordell is writing an anthology of short stories, all based on how conventional roles in society would change after an apocalypse, citing his influences like Stephen King and even movies like “Pulp Fiction.”
“A psychopathic murderer is a criminal in today’s society, but potentially a hero in a post-apocalyptic setting given that he’s killing the right people,” Cordell explains. “A person who’s physically disfigured might be completely normal, if not a little social outcasted, in today’s society, but in a post-apocalyptic society they might be vilified and monstrous. People just get more aggressive, and I think that’s the theme.”
Cordell has written seven stories already, some of which he had already written long before this project was assigned.
Keeping with the theme of apocalypse, Terran Schoell from Schmidt’s class is writing a concept album called “Comet” about the end of the world, focusing more on the way people might respond to the incomprehensible existential threat.
“A lot of it is about the existential nihilism that comes with realizing that everybody is going to die,” Schoell explains. “What I want to do with it is bring out a lot of emotion through that kind of thinking. The end of the world is nothing new, but with most end of the world stories, you know that most of the characters are going to come out fine…but with this, I wanted it to be clear that nobody was going to survive.”
It might seem quite unlikely that a student would, with such a free range on this project, willingly choose to write an academic paper. But lo and behold, there has been at least one taker: Ealaph Tabbaa is writing about the effects the Soviet Realist art movement had on classical composers living in Soviet Russia, focusing on Dmitri Shostakovich, whose relationship with Stalin was more than strained.
“The whole Socialist Realism started initially with Stalin and the Soviet Party wanting to have a control over the culture in such a way that they could propagandize it, so they started off with fine arts,” Tabbaa says. “Any art had to paint this golden image of the working man living his best life in the Soviet Union. The biggest thing was that music, unlike art and writing, was not as easily as censorable because music is a temporal art form, so through that it’s harder to apply those criteria of Socialist realism.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Tabbaa is a classical musician himself. In fact, he hopes to get to major in Bassoon Performance at USC. He’s been interested in Shostakovich’s music since he was in eighth grade, and the Writing Capstone project has provided him the opportunity and motivation to investigate the historical context of one of his favorite composers.
The Carmel Sandpiper’s own Peter Ellison has contrived a neat idea for his Capstone project: He’s planning to write the first 50 pages of a fantasy novel, which he’ll continue to develop during the summer. His novel’s setting is far from utopian, as the story narrates the main character, Sin, as an opportunist, cheating and backstabbing her way to the top of the social ladder.
As a prominent inspiration for his writing, Ellison cites Joe Abercrombie as a fantasy writer who also portrays the shortcomings of human nature and depicts gritty realities in his novels.
Final projects are to be turned in by the end of May, and the plan is for them to then be displayed on the Carmel High website for the world to read.