Senior Capstone Snapshots

By Grace Dailey and Amanda Douglas

It’s been five weeks since the seniors finished their last classes at Branson and left campus to begin their Capstone Projects. A tradition in one form or another for more than 30 years, seniors finish their classes 6 weeks before the end of the last trimester to pursue an endeavor of their choosing. In the past, they have completed internships at research labs and architecture firms, recorded albums, gone on adventures across the coast, and written cookbooks. It’s a time given to explore a passion that one may not have had the time to look into under the confining schedule of a high school education. A few years ago, at the conclusion of the last trimester, there would be a fair where all seniors had the opportunity to showcase what they had done, but in 2014, the school decided that only a small number of seniors would present their experiences to the school at an assembly. So to give you a broader idea of what the seniors are doing while we finish up these last few weeks, we’ve interviewed a few of them.

Will Dailey and the Capstone Cowboys (Ben Hoffner, Sam Lushtak, Jack Corvin, Kyle Wescott, Luciano Orellana, and Jackson Ritter): A Road Trip through the Southwest

"Into the Wild"-- the Capstone Cowboys Photo credit: the Capstone Cowboys' Instagram

“Into the Wild”– the Capstone Cowboys
Photo credit: the Capstone Cowboys’ Instagram

What are you doing for your capstone and what was your inspiration in choosing this endeavor? I’m exploring the backcountry and natural attractions of the American Southwest. While doing so, I’m educating myself in a variety of survival/safety training and practical skills.  My inspiration came from wanting to get out of the area I’ve lived all my life and see parts of the country I’ve never visited before.  However, I would also say part of my inspiration came from On the Road by Jack Kerouac, which I read earlier this year.

What has been the best part of your capstone so far? The best part of the capstone has obviously been the trip. When you plan as thorough and as large of a trip as we did, there’s obviously a lot of planning, prepping, and financing to be done.  Therefore, the best part was once we actually got on the road and were able to enjoy all the hard work we put into making the trip happen.

What has been the worst part? In all honesty, the journal entries. While we were on our trip, it was hard to find the time to do them (even though we were in the car a lot of the time) so all of us ended up having to write them once we got back. Since we weren’t able to write them each day that we were traveling and we were doing so much each day, my daily entries feel as though they’re incomplete, vague facades of the day.  Also, due to the way that they are structured, you have to respond to them by comparing what you did that day with the original questions you posed for yourself at the beginning of your capstone. Not only are some the questions no longer relevant due to the evolution of the capstone, but I have learned a lot of things from my trip that don’t pertain to such specific questions. Lastly, I believe these journals would be more constructive for the person writing them if only the author saw them and had to rely on self-discipline to write them. I believe this format would be a better alternative because the writer would likely make the reflections more personal and also it would help teach the idea that there’s not always going to be someone making sure you get something done. I believe the last lesson is especially important since we are taking a step toward a greater independence next year.

Has anything surprised you during the process or have you learned anything? While it would take it me a couple pages to name everything I learned this trip, I’ll try to hit a couple of the major themes. The first is my underestimation of safety training. After taking a lifeguard course and getting lost in the desert, I now have new appreciation for any sort of safety protocol or course in safety techniques.  Before I thought the subject primarily consisted of common sense ideas, but I now understand that each field of safety has a whole range of complex maneuvers, techniques, and ideas that can be mastered. Personally, I learned a lot about respecting the power of the wilderness. Even with the luxury of car camping, there are a lot of dangers you always have to be ready for. Without the convenience of having modern medicine nearby, you feel a lot less invincible and more cautious of your surroundings.

What would you recommend to future Seniors choosing their capstones? I would say try to do something that you will otherwise would not get a chance to do. Given how career focused most Branson students are, I think it’s important to remember that we’ll have the rest of our lives to take part in internships and courses, but a lot less time to explore and see the world. Also, try not to judge a capstone by its cover.  Although our trip seemed a lot more relaxed than others, I think altogether I put a lot more effort into/spent more time planning/executing the trip than I would have at any internship. Lastly, don’t underestimate practical skills. Living on your own successfully is a job in it’s own and there are a lot of skills (that take a lot of practice) in order to do so effectively.

Aidan Linscott: Building a guitar

The guitar Aidan built under a Junior Fellowship this summer next to his half-finished Capstone Project. Photo credit: Aidan Linscott

The guitar Aidan built under a Junior Fellowship this summer next to his half-finished Capstone Project.
Photo credit: Aidan Linscott

What are you doing for your capstone and what was your inspiration in choosing this endeavor? I am building my own guitar, a second one. My inspiration came from the falling through of my previous [capstone project] idea; when I built my first guitar I had planned on building a second one, hopefully during the same time frame, which did not happen, so I figured I could just do that for my capstone as well and the school seemed fine with it.

What has been the best part of your capstone so far? Wood-shopping is actually really fun, so I’ve enjoyed that very much. Buying really nice stuff is surprisingly fun, until you realize it’s your own money and then you’re just kind of like, “Well, s***.” I’ve dropped a lot of money on it, which sucks because I’m not making any money right now. After days and weeks of working on it, seeing the instrument start to take shape is really exciting. 

What has been the worst part? A lot of the work is fairly tedious, but it’s pretty rewarding to figure out a technique that works really well for something that is boring and then I can just do it all really fast, which I finally did for cutting the fret slots in the fingerboard. In the end, there’s nothing really bad about it.

Has anything surprised you during the process or have you learned anything? I don’t really know if it surprises me or if I kind of expected it. I know that no matter what I do I’m going to screw something up, and I take every possible step to make sure I don’t screw things up. But there’s always that one momentary lapse of reason (#pinkfloyd) when you just space and just mess everything up, and I’ve once again done that. Not a big deal, but for me it’s really painful because it’s so easy to avoid but I did it anyway, so now it’s permanent and I can’t un-do it. I made the lower horn of the guitar out farther so there’s more space for the left hand when you’re shredding like crazy on the high frets because you know I do that a lot #sarcasm. I left the top horn exactly like I did on the last one and then after I cut it out, I realized, “Oh wait, it looks really weird” because the cut-away (the space between the horn and the neck) is very awkwardly spaced compared to the other one, but oh well.

What would you recommend to future Seniors choosing their capstones? Do something that you like to do because for all intents and purposes you’re done with high school, but it’s a graduation requirement and you do have to do it. So you should try to enjoy yourself for the last 6 weeks. At the same time, it’s really nice to do something that’s not super time-consuming so you can spend quality time with a lot of quality people.

Charlotte Oster: Hiking with Ellery Carbone and Lizzie Reeves

"Capstone Day 7 ll Crown Road (5)" -- the Three Mountaineers Photo credits: the Three Mountaineers' Instagram

“Capstone Day 7 ll Crown Road (5)” — the Three Mountaineers
Photo credit: the Three Mountaineers’ Instagram

What are you doing for your capstone and what was your inspiration in choosing this endeavor? I am hiking trails around Mt. Tam and Pt. Reyes and Yosemite at the end. I am working with One Tam, an organization affiliated with the different park agencies on Mt. Tam. I am also working with William Hough, who is close friend of Livingston, and doing trail restoration and he also does youth outreach. On June 4th, it is National Trails Day and we are going to work with him to put on an event and bring Branson students, alums, and faculty out on the trail to work on them. My inspiration: A combination of getting to run on the trails in cross country and hiking and in some of my English classes at Branson, the focus on the love of being outdoors has definitely resonated with me. I have learned that I love being outside and that I would like to use this time to be outdoors.

What has been the best part of your capstone so far? The best part is getting to hike these beautiful trails and being outside all the time. I also have loved getting to work with William Hough, who is a really interesting person and has a lot of interesting stories – it has been really cool to get to work along side him.

What has been the worst part? The worst part has been not getting to do more backpacking and doing longer trips in places I haven’t been before. It has been hard with track and with Yosemite, I didn’t realize how long you have to make reservations in advance, but otherwise it has been a really fun, amazing experience.

Has anything surprised you during the process or have you learned anything? I underestimated how long hikes will take. On the first day, we hiked from Branson to Stinson and it took a lot longer than expected. We thought it would take around 3 maybe 4 hours, but it ended up taking around 5 or 6, so we never made it to track practice that day. William Hough surprised me a little bit – he has done so many crazy things – he is originally from Mexico and came up to Boston and has done so many things (he worked as a chainsawer, a construction worker, a farmer, a sailor, a cowboy, written a novel or maybe multiple…he’s done a lot and I don’t think he is 30 yet)…it makes me feel like I have not done that much in my 18 years.

I further realized how much better I feel when I am outside. For most people, being outdoors makes you feel happier. Going off of that, I have been reading a book called Blue Mind, which analyzes the science behind why being in the water makes you happy. It has been cool to think about why you are happy being outside and outdoors.

I also did an REI survival course and I have talked to my dad who was a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) instructor and so I have learned about a lot of wilderness survival skills…so hopefully, if there ever was a time when I was desperate, I would have those to fall back on.

What would you recommend to future Seniors choosing their capstones? I would say…some people go into it thinking, “What would look good on a resume?” But this is a special time in your life and you should do something you really love to do. And this is a time when you can do something with friends before we all go in different directions.