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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

English majors open Pandora’s box for senior projects

Bryan Mendoza / Thresher

By Sarah Motteler     4/2/24 11:33pm

While waiting for a train last summer, Gabby Franklin realized what her senior project would be: a modern play retelling the myth of Pandora’s box. Franklin, a Brown College senior, is required — like all seniors majoring in English — to participate in a yearlong seminar course, where students produce long-form writing projects.  

“[One] minute I was waiting for the transit system, and the next I was just in tears for so many reasons … it just felt like I was a cog in this machine, and it just became this cycle, work, study, grind, work, study, grind. And I just had this moment of denial,” Franklin said. “[This] can’t be all there is … [Is] this what I had been preparing for all these years for?”

That summer, Franklin also started reading the story of Pandora’s box. Her feelings about higher education, opportunity and anxious anticipation resonated with the original story, she said. 

“‘Pandora’ is a play about a student’s college decision as a modern retelling of Pandora’s [box] to examine how the external powers we’re caught between, like family history, financial circumstances and school situations, factor into our decision to pursue higher education and opportunity today,” Franklin said. “I hope that through this story, this play brings solidarity to the difficulties of opening our jars and releasing our decisions out into the world.”

While many projects were started this school year, others have been in the works for much longer. McKenna Tanner, a Hanszen College senior, started developing the historical fiction novel that would become her senior project in her freshman year and has been working on it ever since.

Tanner’s novel takes place in the summer of 1968, as three college students take a road trip from New York to Houston. According to Tanner, the novel is partially inspired by her grandparents, who went to Rice in the late ’60s and fell in love here. 

“I chose to make the road trip in my novel mirror [my grandmother’s] experience of leaving New York and entering a very different environment and city when she came to Houston,” Tanner said. ”I feel like writing this novel has allowed me to better understand where they’ve come from.”

 Tanner isn’t just looking to the past, though. In her novel, she’s hoping to reflect the questions and concerns college students have in the present, too. 

“I’ve been really interested in the similarities between the 1960s and the 2020s. I think we as college students now are dealing with a lot of the same questions and concerns that young people were dealing with in the late ‘60s,” Tanner said.

“[In] writing about these three college students from 1968, I really get to be in conversation with a lot of the issues that are impacting me and my peers today.”

Ariana Wang, a Brown College senior, took a musical approach to the senior design requirement. She created an album of ten songs, varying in style and setting, sharing her experiences with letting go of old relationships, understanding her sexuality and opening herself up to new love. 

Wang’s songs are based on her summer experiences in Seattle, where she interned, and Georgia, her home state. She also got inspiration from various literary sources, such as personal essays about queerness, the Asian-American experience, coming-of-age and relationships.

Musically, Wang said she is inspired by Mitski, Ethel Cain and Taylor Swift. Her greatest inspirations, however, are other Rice students who have publicly presented their work to the community. 

“I genuinely do not think I could have found the vulnerability to sing my unpolished rough drafts for my senior seminar cohort every workshop if I didn’t see other Rice students do it for bigger crowds at open mics,” Wang said.

Although their projects differed greatly in form, content and inspiration, all three senior seminar projects express their creators’ personal journeys that have taken place while they have studied at Rice through creative writing.

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