Senior Essays

Senior Jermaine Brown greets friends after his oral examination.
Senior Jermaine Brown greets friends after his oral examination.

The senior essay is the signature effort of a student’s career at St. John’s College. The essay is a sustained performance in the liberal arts and culmination of the student’s learning. The essay is not a work of specialized research, but the extended pursuit of a difficult question in dialogue with a great author.

In the first semester each senior selects a book, a question, and a faculty advisor. The student and advisor meet periodically in the first semester to discuss the book and define the project. In the first four weeks of the second semester, senior classes are suspended for essay writing. Each completed essay is assigned to a committee of three tutors, who examine the student on the essay in a one-hour, public conversation. Submission of a satisfactory senior essay and completion of the oral are conditions for receiving the degree. 

Learn more about the essay writing process and oral examination for seniors, and read about the student who wrote a prize-winning essay on “The Probability Function in Quantum Mechanics: A Formal Cause Beyond Space and Time.”

See senior essay topics for the St. John’s Class of 2019.

Seniors Talk Essays

Read what students wrote about for their senior essays.

Senior Essay Titles

The titles demonstrate how wide-ranging the topics can be for senior essays.

Senior Essay Titles
Title of Essay Sources
The Bawdy Politic: Examinations on Gender in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata Aristophanes, Lysistrata
Good Manners and Good Judgments in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Austen, Pride and Prejudice
C’est L’Ennui: An Exploration of Ennui in the Works of Charles Baudelaire Baudelaire, Fleurs du Mal
Finding Home: Man’s Journey in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony Beethoven, Symphony No. 9
A Choice of Nightmares: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Conrad, Heart of Darkness
“None is so Disgusting”: An Exploration into the Role of Gluttony in Dante’s Divine Comedy Dante, Divine Comedy—The Inferno
Harmonizing Souls: An Examination of The Souls of Black Folk Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
A Journey Through Restlessness: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Of Men, Whales, and Myths: An Exploration of the Creation Narrative in Moby-Dick Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
The Mathematics that Underlies Natural Phenomena: On the Use of Analogy in Maxwell’s Exposition of the Electromagnetic Field James Maxwell
The Relationship Between Space and The Human Mind: An Evaluation of Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
The Sublime in Paradise Lost—An Exploration of Hell, Chaos, Heaven, and Earth Milton, Paradise Lost
Chaos and Quanta: Two New Hypotheses in Max Planck’s Theory of Heat Radiation Planck, Theory of Heat Radiation
Why Make Friend with Pity? An Inquiry into Modern Ethics in Light of Rousseau’s View of Human Nature Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
The Probability Function in Quantum Mechanics: A Formal Cause Beyond Space and Time Senior Lab Manual—Atom and Measurement; Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
Geometry and Necessity Senior Math Manual; Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
Love—A Hero and a Villain: An Exploration of Love in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Defining Fate in King Lear Shakespeare, King Lear; Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments
‘To Be More Than What You Were’—Masculinity in Shakespeare’s Macbeth Shakespeare, Macbeth
On Autonomy, Obedience, and Loyalty in Sophocles’ Antigone Sophocles, Antigone
The Security of Liberty: An Examination of the American Identity in the American Founding Documents The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers
Free Will and Society in War and Peace Tolstoy, War and Peace
Looking at the Moral Development of Huck in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Song of Myself: Whitman’s Examination of Identity Through Poetry Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Beats, Rhymes, and Life: A Poet’s Journey (John Fabiszewski)  
Can Capitalism Survive? An Examination of Socialist and Capitalist Systems in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (Gordon Greer)  
Turning the World Inside-Out: Why the Newtonian Theory of Planetary Motion Supersedes the Ptolemaic  
An Examination of Nietzsche’s Views on Morality  
Is Revolution Justifiable? Abraham Lincoln and the Right to Revolution