Rebecca Rider column: Senior projects

Published 12:01 am Thursday, May 5, 2016

Music blasts from speakers set up in the Salisbury High School cafeteria. Students, wearing dresses or suits and ties, cluster around the tables, chatting nervously. When a group of students bursts through the doors, returning from delivering their graduation project presentation, the cheering is loud enough to rattle the windows.

I was invited out to Salisbury High Tuesday night to talk to the approximately 96 seniors who would be presenting their graduation projects before boards of judges. It’s a process that took many of them months, and required them to work with a mentor and get some hands-on experience.

“The last thing they have to do is an eight- to 10-minute presentation to what may be a room full of strangers,” teacher Lucas Hatley said, “and that’s a hard thing for a lot of kids.”

I remember my own senior project — an event that now occurred more than five years ago. But I can still remember, clearly, the nerves. The way my senior class waited in a spare classroom. We didn’t do much more than sit quietly, subdued and too anxious to speak. At Salisbury, there was almost a sense of celebration — of relief at finally being done. The students could practically see graduation on the horizon, and it was intoxicating.

For many students, the project was an opportunity to pursue an interest. Ryan Leonard used the project, and its required paper, to research the history and evolution of gun laws. He worked with a concealed-carry instructor, and took a defensive shooting course. He had the paper target he used neatly folded in his backpack, riddled with bullet holes.

At one of the tables, Chloe McGee pulls out an alto saxophone. She used the project as an opportunity to learn more about music education and apply for college. Her mentor helped her put together audition tapes for music education programs across the state. McGee said she’s wanted to go into music education for a while.

“I really love the arts in schools, and I want to be a part of that . . . the joy that arts bring is indescribable,” she said.

During her presentation, McGee planned to play her audition piece for the panel of judges. She’s been accepted into the music education program at Brevard College.

“This project really benefited me and prepared me for my future,” she said.

At the entrance of the cafeteria, Robert Leonard wheels a stick welder through the door. While he can’t demonstrate his welding skills for his presentations due to safety considerations, he brought in his mask, jacket, and the welder itself.

Leonard has been taking welding classes at RCCC through the college’s career and college promise program, and was accepted into the program for the fall semester. Leonard said he’s always enjoyed building things.

“I saw it as a very useful job,” he said.

In the cafeteria, the crowd of students waited, jittery with nerves and excitement. Impromptu dance parties and singing broke out across the room as they waited for their group to be called. And when they returned, running down the breezeway to the cafeteria, they were met with high-fives from Hatley and thunderous applause from their peers.


Contact education reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264 or