Author  DRBU Staff

Seniors in the BA program are required to present a final essay in the spring semester of their fourth year that epitomizes the culmination of a student’s education at DRBU. Our graduating seniors share their insights on their senior essays! (Special thanks to Dr. Shari Epstein for working with the seniors to create this piece!)

Warren Chew

Thesis Advisors: Dr. Martin Verhoeven and Meghan Sweet
Senior Essay Title: “Approaching Silence: Kierkegaard on the Story of Abraham”

What it’s about: My essay is an investigation of the ethical dilemma in the story of Abraham. Through the perspective of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, it explores the question of why God demands Abraham to commit a horrible act: to sacrifice his own son. I approach Abraham’s dilemma from a visceral perspective, analyzing the raw emotional reactions he would’ve presumedly felt during the ordeal. To complement that perspective, I also look at the story rationally, attempting to unravel the irrationality that permeates it.

What it’s really about: I was inspired to explore this topic after contemplating my personal experiences with religion and going to church. I wanted to delve deeper into the discomfort I would feel at church, realizing that I never truly felt like I was a part of the Christian community. I would ask myself, how can these people be so confident in their beliefs? What is their understanding of God? And what is faith? In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard’s approach to the story of Abraham allowed me to explore my discomfort in a rich and complex manner, as he fully confronts the story in all its controversial and ethical dimensions.

Thoughts and Reflections After Completion of Your Senior Essay: Although many of my questions regarding faith and religion have not been fully resolved, I’ve learned to explore this area of my life in a way that validates my discomfort rather than avoids it. I fully resonated with Kierkegaard’s approach, appreciating his highly unconventional, vulnerable, and yet courageous confrontation with the story of God and Abraham. I have never taken on such a large and concentrated study of a topic like this before—a topic that is of such philosophical, religious, and personal importance to me. I am grateful for the experience and the help of my advisors, as well as everyone involved in supporting me.

Tomas Fletcher

Thesis Advisor: Professor Franklyn Wu
Committee Member: Dr. Sarah Babcock
Senior Essay Title: “Authenticity Through Reflecting On Death: A Contemplative Study on the Stories of Ivan Ilyich and the Buddha”

What it’s about: In this essay I explore two stories where the protagonists encounter death and come to terms with it in different ways. In the first story, The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, the main character Ivan Ilyich puts up an enduring resistance and denial against the reality of death, as it doesn’t foster his pursuit of pleasure and worldly happiness. In the second story, Life of the Buddha by Aśvaghoṣa, Prince Siddhartha also encounters death but does not shirk away from it, but immediately renounces all mundane pursuits in quest for a solution to the riddle of mortality. This essay explores the meaning and value we can derive by reflecting on our mortality, and the consequences of neglecting to do so and living life heedlessly.

What it’s really about: I had a strong, visceral reaction to the story of Ivan Ilyich. On the one hand, I realized I did not want to die like he did – full of fear, regret, loneliness and torment. And yet, on the other hand, I could not help but realize that I live with a very similar mentality to his. I often waste time in pursuit of petty and vain pleasures, am inconsistent in my own spiritual practice, and am often resistant to advice that goes against the grain, but nonetheless points me in the right direction. Prince Siddhartha served as the antithesis to this mentality, and thus a model for what I want to be like. This doesn’t mean I want to literally flee to the Himalayas and practice as a hermit, but that I’m interested in waking myself out of my complacency, and pursuing what is most meaningful to me, despite all the adversity that that path might entail.

Thoughts and Reflections After Completion of Your Senior Essay: My topic was not always a comfortable one to look into. I was often aware of how much I thought and behaved like the character I didn’t want to be anything like, and how distant I am from the heroic spirit I want to emulate. Even now, having finished the essay and the orals, I feel a deep sense of shame about not embodying the principles I was trying to elucidate in my essay. At the same time, I know that I can’t expect to change overnight, and I am applying measures to help me shift away from my compulsive, mindless habits and move toward a more authentic, engaged and meaningful way of life. Writing this essay didn’t change everything for me, but I hope it will add fuel to the fire of my mind that is resolved on awakening.

Norbel Casas

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Ernest Waugh
Committee Member: Dr. Stacy Chen
Senior Essay Title: “Evaluating the Inherent Value of Knighthood and Squirehood”

What it’s about: This essay is a study of Cervantes’ Don Quixote which examines the value of chivalry and its relevance to modern times. Do the knight Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza have anything to teach us that can help add value and meaning to our lives?

What it’s really about: I make the argument that Don Quixote and Sancho Panza represent aspects of our psyche. More specifically, Don Quixote represents the optimistic and idealistic part, whereas Sancho Panza represents the skeptical and realistic aspect. We need to develop both traits in balance so that we grow as human beings, live meaningful lives, and ultimately refine our person (morally speaking). This involves self-reflection, asking probing questions (i.e. How can ideals lead us astray? How can ideals leave us with a sense of hope? How do you skillfully apply ideals that are grounded in reality?), as well as viscerally, emotionally, and mentally, feeling into one’s spirit of optimism.

Thoughts and Reflections After Completion of Your Senior Essay: I feel that I have only started my exploration of Don Quixote. There are so many more themes that I would like to explore. I feel that I have found a new teacher that still has lessons to teach me. I am grateful for the collaborative effort of everyone I have worked with to help make my ideas intelligible and clear.