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2019 Senior Thesis Preview

Senior Thesis Defense 2019

The third week of May is an important time for Upper School graduates at Clapham School. This is the week faculty has picked for the defense of their Senior Theses. This one event is the culmination of a yearlong project where students met with a mentor to build and develop a research strategy, and execute the strategy by identifying a problem of the modern world and offering a solution based on the wisdom of the past. This blog will highlight the senior theses of Isabelle Wachs and Charlie MacAdam. 



Stabilizing the Pendulum: Finding the Balance between Collectivism and Individualism 

By Isabelle Wachs


Clapham School Senior Isabelle Wachs discusses her senior thesis. 

Question: What is your thesis about?

Isabelle: My subject comes from the realm of culture and philosophy. As I looked back over the things I have learned in the past 4 years, and observed the values influencing all of us who are members of Generation Z, I decided to do my thesis on the radical individualism prevalent among members of Gen Z in the U.S. My intent is to map how our culture transitioned from leaning towards a collectivist ideology/framework to a radically individualistic set of values.


Question: How did you narrow down your topic?

Isabelle: I thought about it throughout the summer and started to note the things I observed in our world. I noted that among previous generations, such as my parents’ generation, Gen X, priorities are focused on church and family values, societal contributions and service towards others. These priorities contrast starkly with values I see in my own generation, Gen Z.  I identified symptoms such as a generalized increase in self-focused tendencies, and an acceptance of this as a given for young people. I also observed a general decline in moral and spiritual values. I wanted to research and address these observations.

Beliefs About Morality, by Generation from Barna Group

Question: What was the hardest part of writing your thesis?

Isabelle: For me it was simply finding the time to write and research. I had to balance this project with other priorities and responsibilities.


Question: What surprised you most about the process or the findings?

Isabelle: I was surprised to find that so much research has already been done on this subject. Some of the data I discovered was alarming. For example, I found that atheism had doubled from Millenials to Gen Z. 13% of Gen Z are atheists.  That is 8,450,000 people between the ages of 13 to 18! As atheism is on the rise and faith declines, the love of self increases.


Question: What resource was most helpful or made the biggest impact on your research or conclusion?

Isabelle: The One, the Three, and the Many by Colin Gunton.

The One, The Three and The Many by Colin E. Gunton

Question: How will your findings impact your life personally?

Isabelle: As I researched things taking place in my own generation, I saw such a contrast between the current value system of our generation and what I’ve been learning and soaking in at church, at school, and from my family. I have come to appreciate all the more my church, nuclear family, and Clapham, and the ways they model community to me. Though they are not perfect—they are quite messy sometimes!—it is a commitment and covenant with fellow believers and with Christ.


Question: How does faith inform your conclusion?

Isabelle: I’ve come to see how powerfully transforming the centrality of Christ, through the church, is to our culture’s ideology.


Question: How did you experience the process of writing the thesis?

Isabelle: The thesis process consists of three steps: research, writing & editing, and presentation & defense. The research process was enlightening, prompting me to view my topic from different perspectives. The first two to three months of school were purely reading and collecting information. The writing process was the most difficult part, as is expected. However, I enjoyed discussing the ideas previously researched with Mr. Barney and my family, and then being able to put into words this issue that deeply impacts everyone, but particularly my generation. I am looking forward to the final step of presentation & defense, and am preparing for that now. 

U.S. Religious Identity 2018 by Barna Group

Question: How are you preparing for the defense?

Isabelle: I am practicing with my presentation slideshow and reviewing my argument. I have shared much of the research I have learned with my family, so around the house there have been lots of discussions and question/answer sessions with my parents and siblings!


Question: What advice do you have for next year’s seniors?

Isabelle: Write down everything you discuss with your Senior Thesis mentor teacher. I cannot stress this enough. Mr. Barney was so vital in this process. He helped me to develop my argument and organize my thoughts, while constantly encouraging me. Also, do not overthink writing the paper. It seems extremely long when you first begin, but I found that it is better to write down all your thoughts and research, and then organize and edit it afterwards. I did not write my paper in the chronological order it is now; it developed overtime.


Isabelle Wachs is completing her senior year at Clapham School, which she has attended for the last seven years. She is grateful to her family, her teachers, and the entire Clapham community for their support and Christ-like example. Most of all, she praises God for his continual guidance and saving grace. She will be attending Wheaton College in the fall, majoring in Business Economics and Art History and minoring in French.  



Heads In The Clouds: The Growing Threat Of Vaping In Our Modern World

by Charlie MacAdam


Charlie MacAdam Senior Thesis Defense 2019 

Question: What is your thesis about?

Charlie: I chose to do my thesis on the issue of vaping as it has become epidemic in our society – especially among young people.  I sought to prove that this is a problem that does indeed exist and demonstrate the severity and extent of this newer trend. I also seek to provide a persuasive solution in my paper.


Question: How did you pick your topic?

Charlie: I saw how this recent trend among my peers and young adults has been steadily picking up in popularity. I’ve been saddened to see how this craze has taken a hold on many of our nation’s youth and how it is affecting them now and will continue to affect their entire lives if they are sucked into this practice.


Question: What was the hardest part of writing your thesis?

Charlie: It was taking hard data – many numbers and facts – and translating them into meaningful concepts in words.  It is easy enough to list a bunch of detailed facts, but to interpret and explain them takes more work.

E-Vaporizer use according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens  

Question: What surprised you most about the process or the findings?

Charlie: I didn’t expect to find so much information about this trend. The staggering increase of this problem in recent years was also a surprise to me.


Question: Which resource was most helpful or made the biggest impact on your research or conclusion?

Charlie: Reading Augustine’s Confessions was actually one of the best resources I used.  There is a story in the book where he is a teenager and is stealing pears just for the fun of it – there is a wicked bent in him to destroy and waste and harm for no reason other than impulse and excitement.  The rush he got from acting in this way is very similar to any kind of addiction – whether it is chemical or behavioral. Addiction stems from a dopamine rush – a mechanism in the brain that induces a person to want more of what caused the pleasurable effects.  

Vaping is a waste on all fronts: of time, money, and one’s own health.  Exploring Augustine’s experiences gave me insight into some of this, as he, even as early as he lived, demonstrated strong addictive tendencies.

The Confessions of St Augustine


Question: How will your findings impact your life personally?

Charlie: Well, it’s not likely I’ll take up vaping, for one.  But as for the rest of my life, it has taught me to be cautious, judicious and studious about new and exciting trends.  After doing this research I am more encouraged to wait after something new comes out before trying it. I believe there is wisdom in this.  We don’t know all the long-term effects of vaping and how nicotine addiction affects the brain (especially in young people whose brains are still growing, changing and forming).  I aim to be more conscious of how I take care of my body.


Question: How does faith inform your conclusion?

Charlie: I actually analyzed this from three angles: the impact on Health, on Society and on Spirituality.  All of these have a faith component. For the section on Spirituality, I looked at the writings of Dante, Benedict and Augustine.  These ancient and wise sages have much to give us in the way of framing our thinking around the use of harmful substances to fulfill a fleshly impulse.  I use their thoughts to inform how I approached this topic.

 Top 10 Markets for Vape Products by Lora Jones reporting for BBC News

Question: How did you experience the process of writing the thesis?

Charlie: It was a bit stressful as I have limited time and had to find ways to fit in research and writing.  My life is very full with my job, school, Church, youth group, tennis and making music videos on the side.  


Question: What advice do you have for next year’s seniors?

Charlie: Try to get your assignments for the thesis project done right away, especially after meeting with your advisor.  I would often have some great idea during or after the meeting and if I didn’t get it written down or done pretty quickly I would forget the details and arrive the next week regret it.  So, it’s good to plan a little time right after your meetings to get ideas written and processed while they are fresh.



Charlie MacAdam is a part time senior in humanities and science at Clapham School and Wheaton North High School.  He will be receiving the Great Books Humanities certificate at this year’s Recognition Night.  He is looking forward to furthering his studies at Hillsdale College next year.  He plans to study Economics, Mathematics, and Accounting (as well as sharpening any other interests).  He hopes to pursue a career that permits him to work with people on a personal level, and assist them with things like financial management/investment, marketing strategies, and solving any issues pertaining to finance..



If you are intrigued by the research these young scholars have devoted a year of their lives to, please join us Friday May 24 at 1 pm for the detailed presentation of these theses. Isabelle’s defense will occur at 1 pm and Charlie’s at 3 pm in Welsh Hall of College Church in Wheaton.







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