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Despite Trials, Hist. and Lit. Concentrators Finish Theses

By Elizabeth S. Widdicombe, Contributing Writer

Triumphing over printer problems, chronic paper shortages and network outages, History and Literature concentrators poured into the Barker Center Friday to turn in their senior theses—the concentration’s 5 p.m. deadline the earliest of the term.

None of the difficulties proved insurmountable however, and at the end of the day all of the tired writers had found their way to the concentration office.

Director of Studies Steven H. Biel said that students looked “particularly tired this year,” at a champagne party celebrating their achievement.

“There were people with their eyes half-closed,” Biel said, “who didn’t look like they’d showered in a few days.”

For many, that was probably an accurate assessment, the previous 24 hours having proved a harrowing experience.

At six o’clock on Friday morning, after a sleepless night, Katie A. Urbanic ’03 was sitting in the Quincy computer lab attempting to print out her 120 page final draft. The printer didn’t work.

She moved to the Science Center, where after printing about 300 pages of drafts she exhausted the computer lab’s supply of paper.

Urbanic’s odyssey continued as she ran to Kinko’s in Harvard Square, where she found other frazzled seniors as well as a few sympathetic Kinko’s employees.

Kinko’s unfortunately did not have the size of acid-free paper that she needed.

“I don’t think they understood how desperate I was,” Urbanic said.

But when a Kinko’s employee didn’t return in time from a trip to Kendall Square for more paper, another volunteered to cut a larger stack down to the right size.

Urbanic took the hand-cut paper back to the Science Center to finally print. She was done, with a little time to spare, before the deadline of five o’clock that afternoon.

“There are always some people who come in a little later,” said Chair of the History and Literature program Homi K. Bhabha, who sat in the office waiting for students to bring in their final products.

“We were biting our fingernails,” he said, “hoping they would come.”

As the hour hand swept past five, Michael T. O’Neill ’03 was busy completing a “last minute overhaul.”

“I got really into it,” O’Neill said, “and I started to make some pretty significant changes right at the end.”

O’Neill did have a working printer, although it ran out of ink, which had to be replaced.

“That was just the icing on the cake,” O’Neill said. He missed the champagne party, but turned the thesis in.

“It was pretty hellish at the end” he said. “But it was a labor of love.”

O’Neill said that temporary network outages on Wednesday and Thursday evening, which frustrated some thesis writers, actually helped his editing process.

“It kept me from the distraction of checking my e-mail,” he said.

However, for Katie H. Lynch ’03, e-mail—along with a constant supply of coffee—provided a lifeline of support for the past two weeks.

“I got a lot of encouraging notes from my adviser,” she said, “and from people updating me on their progress, writing things like, ‘I haven’t done my bibliography and I only have two hours!’”

Lynch said she spent most nights in the Science Center this week, where she worked in the company of other thesis writers and “a whole subterranean world of computer science people” that she hadn’t known existed. “I guess they do this all the time,” she said.

To celebrate the end of their travails, many concentrators went out to dinner or to bars, and made long-neglected contact with friends and family.

Many said the completion of their thesis opened up whole new areas of opportunity. “I started on the mound of laundry in my closet” said Miranda S. Richmond ’03.

Richmond said that this weekend, she has been able to exercise, go out, and sleep late for the first time in three months.

“I think I’m going to learn something new,” Richmond said, “like dancing.”

But for some seniors, with many friends still hard at work, the end has brought a letdown as well as a feeling of release.

“It’s like finishing a play or a performance,” Urbanic said, “and thinking, ‘Now what am I going to do with myself?’”

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