Margaret works hard to complete her capstone

Margaret McMenamin Completes English Capstone

Margaret McMenamin came to the end of her English capstone journey on Tuesday, December 10. In a room full of her close friends, professors, and family, Margaret spent 30 minutes explaining her research and ideas on Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations. Margaret gives us a look into the 10-month process of building her capstone.   

What is the English Capstone?

“The English capstone is composed of three chapters. The first chapter focuses on a specific aspect of the author’s life, the second chapter is an analysis of what other critics have to say, and the final chapter is your thesis.”

Margaret’s thesis was “Pip’s moral development in Great Expectations.” Here is how she chose Great Expectations.

“I admit, choosing a novel was probably the most challenging part of the whole process. I began by compiling a list of my favorite books and as I started to think through what I like about each book and what I would write about, Great Expectations stood out. In particular, I was drawn to Pip because Pip is an everyman character. We relate to Pip because he is imperfect. But we also learn with Pip as he makes mistakes.”

An Unexpected Challenge

Of course, every senior capstone comes with some challenges. But Margaret faced one that you might not expect.

She says, “The most difficult challenge was wading through masses of source material. Often, students struggle with finding enough sources, but I had the opposite problem. So much has been written on both Charles Dickens and Great Expectations that, at one point, I had to just draw the line and start writing.”

But with the challenges comes enjoyment as well.

“The joy of discovery was the best part about this journey. Those moments when something clicks, the light bulb goes on, and you suddenly feel that rush of inspiration that pushes you to continue.The writing process is 90% hard work, but those moments when you discover a deeper layer to a character, plot, or theme gives you the motivation you need to keep working.”

The Help of a Mentor

Mr. Jerry Kolwinska has been directing the English capstone since 2014. Margaret received encouragement and support as she built her biggest college project from Mr. Kolwinska in his last year of teaching.

“Mr. Kolwinska was my biggest encourager, greatest supporter, and wisest counselor,” says Margaret. “He always listened so patiently as I would go on and on about the dozens of ideas in my head and he would ask pertinent questions that helped me find direction.”

Thanks to Mr. Kolwinska’s consistent support, Margaret was able to learn about more than just writing and collecting numerous research sources into one 30-page paper.

“As I wrote on Pip’s moral development, I couldn’t help but consider my own. While Pip as the character views human beings based on wealth, social status, and education, Pip as the narrator is a more mature, experienced man with a corrected view of human value. In the end, Pip the character becomes Pip the narrator, carefully examining his life, accepting both the good and the bad, and receiving redemption through the love of his friends.”

The Journey Worth Taking

A 30-page thesis driven paper can be intimidating to even those people who love literature. But Margaret, now looking back at her journey, has advice for the students looking forward to their journey.

“Take advantage of the many opportunities available to you. Try out for the play, apply for an internship, get involved with your society. Challenge yourself to try new things even if they are intimidating because that is where you will grow.”

“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” – Dickens, Great Expectations.   

Don’t be afraid to grow. College is a crazy, fun, and exciting time in your life. Yes, the work is hard, but the rewards will last longer than you think. No matter what your capstone will be, don’t be worried. Face the challenge head on. You might find yourself encouraging your own growth without realizing it.

To learn more about the English department, click here.