Tributes and thank-yous from generations of Bates seniors, both earnest and quirky, are inside each bound volume of honors theses in Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving Week, we pored over a few hundred honors theses looking for the best thanks and tributes — that is, the most distinctive, unusual, and quirky — offered by thesis-weary seniors over the years.
While the honors program started in 1927, not until the 1970s did the custom of including dedications or acknowledgments begin to flourish. These days, the tradition is in full bloom.
Most the examples below are at 10-year intervals, meaning we didn’t look at every thesis because, well, this ain’t a senior thesis. And we chose honors theses because they’re readily available, down the street at Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library and online since 2011 on the SCARAB database.
Best Use of Self-Deprecation to Thank a Bates Professor
Jordan Becker ’15, writing a rhetoric thesis on “Contesting the Dominance of Neoliberalism: The Ideograph as a Force for Social Change,” said this about Professor of Politics Bill Corlett, who was part of his thesis defense panel:
“If I become only half the thinker, half the teacher, half the person that Bill Corlett is, it will surely be one of my greatest accomplishments.”
Best Thanks That’s So Sweet It Makes Us Forget It’s a Really Long Sentence
Erin Beirne ’06, writing a geology thesis on “A Geochemical Investigation of Organic Matter Composition, Deposition, and Preservation at Sprague Marsh, Phippsburg, Maine,” thanked her family, noting that:
“It is entirely possible that I would have slept through my senior year had you not been willing to call me every morning, that I would have drowned in a sea of Bates had you not been there to bail me out, and that I may have never had a moment from myself had you not been as important a part of my life, my consciousness, as you are.”
Best Thanks for the Start of an Academic Career
Craig Woodard ’86 wrote a biology thesis on “Partial Purification of a Type I Arylsulfatase from Drosophila melanogaster,” and thanked now-retired professor Joe Pelliccia for “for his wisdom, guidance, support, and patience. Dr. Pelliccia has taught me to be a scientist.”
Woodard earned a doctorate from Yale and has been a professor of biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College since 1995.
Craig Woodard ’86 is a professor of biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College. In his thesis acknowledgments, he said he was inspired by his thesis adviser, Professor Emeritus of Biology Joe Pelliccia. (Mount Holyoke College photograph)
Best Dedication That May Have Formed the Basis of a Great Marriage
Paul Bomely ’76, writing a government thesis on “Mark-up Sessions and Congressional Decision-making: A Case Study,” dedicated his thesis to “Martha” for “her advice, her patience, and her faith, because she always understood.”
“Martha” was Martha Brown ’76, then Paul’s fiancée and a fellow government major.
Paul and Martha were married just a couple weeks after their graduation, on June 19, 1976, and will celebrate their 40th anniversary this spring. They live in Charlotte, N.C.
The honors thesis dedication page of Paul Bomely ’76.
Best Use of a Dedication to Thank Mom for That Really Great Sweater
Terrance Amsler ’96, writing an English thesis on “Negotiating Public and Poetic Ground: The Poetry of Mahon, Carson, and McGuckian,” dedicated his thesis to his mom, “who, for every hour I spent typing, you knit two, purl two, making me a vest of Irish wool and familial love.”
Best Use of Humor on a Cover Page of a Thesis
Roger Thies ’55 put a cover page on his biology thesis, “A Study of the Effects of Ultraviolet Light on Bacterial Viruses” that said, “This Is Thies’s Thesis.”
He wasn’t done being inventive with his name. When he married Nancy Tanner, they joined names as Nancy and Roger TannerThies.
Best Acknowledgment That Writing the Acknowledgments Is a Way to Do Something Productive While Procrastinating
In thanking his adviser, rhetoric professor Stephanie Kelley-Romano, the aforementioned Jordan Becker added a footnote admitting that he was writing his acknowledgement before actually finishing the thesis and noting that it was proving to be “a wonderful source of procrastination.”
He noted the hubris of writing the acknowledgements before actually finishing, calling it “optimistic speculation that I will, in fact, complete this thesis. As of now, whether this optimism will bear fruit and prove to be validated, no one can say for sure.”
Best Thanks to a Software Program
Joshua Manson ’15 wrote a politics thesis on “‘Same Story Every Time / Being Black is Not a Crime’: Gun Regulations and Recurrent Patterns of Government Control of Black Americans in the 19th and 20th Centuries.”
He offered a thank you to the “spell-check function of Microsoft Word, without whom ‘institution’ would be misspelled differently 197 times.”
Best Acknowledgment That Computing Was Not Yet Readily Available for Social Science Research at Bates 50 Years Ago
Lionel Whiston ’66, wrote a government thesis on “The Role of Party Membership in Congressional Opposition to Presidents Eisenhower and Truman in the Fields of Labor and Civil Rights.”
He wished to use “data-processing machines to examine the relation between party membership and opposition to the president. That this was not done was due to my inability to express quantitatively the relationship I sought.”
Best Description of the Great Depression
Irving Isaacson ’36 wrote an economics and sociology thesis on “Would a System of Government Ownership, Properly Administered, Provide the Necessary Flexibility in Our Price System?”
By the mid-1930s, he wrote in his thesis, the Great Depression had taken a “terrific toll — in life, in health, in security, in money, in suffering, and in want.”
Best (Because It’s the First One We Could Find) Thanks to a Lewiston Business
Acknowledgments and dedications in senior theses were rare up through the 1950s.
Robert Blake ’55, in his thesis on “An Investigation of Paper Chromatography as a Means to Identify Plant Genotypes,” included a Lewiston business in one of the first acknowledgments, thanking Saunders Greenhouse, which used to be on Main Street in Lewiston near the Veterans Bridge, for their “kind cooperation.”
Best Thanks to a Lewiston Nonprofit
Nicholas Steverson ’15 wrote an English thesis on “’To my Virginity!’: Queerness, Silencing, and Dominicanity in Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” and thanked the team at the Lewiston nonprofit Tree Street Youth:
“To Julia, Kim, Megan, Cristal, Anwar, Ayman, Alli, Aisha, Sam, Brett, Erryl, Kelsey, Munir, Prosper, Fabi, and all the folks at Tree Street for giving me a home in Maine, for giving me a way to be proud of my work every day, for understanding that I had to do this one last weird thing before I could be there all the time.”
Tree Street Youth Center was founded by Julia Sleeper ’08 and Kim Sullivan ’13.
Best Acknowledgment of a Project Management Truism
Paul Wason ’76, writing a biology thesis on “The Domestication and Early Dispersal of Cotton as It Relates to the Possibility of Pre-Columbian Contacts Between the New World and the Old,” thanked a legion of friends for helping with typing (lots of people were thanked for typing back then) noting that “no matter how much planning is done, there is always a rush at the end.”
Best “Thanks, But I’m All Set”
At the end of his thanks to all his friends who helped, Wason added, “Thanks, also, to others who offered to help.”
Best Mention of a Thesis Tradition in an Acknowledgment
Brooks Motley ’06 wrote a geology thesis on “Sedimentation in Linnévatnet, Svalbard, During 2004–2005: A Modern Process Study Using Sediment Traps.”
He toasted his adviser, Mike Retelle, by saying that “the next Interface Pale Ale in a leaky Zodiak is on me.”
The “leaky Zodiak” refers to a brand of rubber boat. But “Interface Pale Ale”? That needs explanation, which Retelle provides.
“When we recover a sediment core or sediment trap from the bottom of a lake we’re researching for the first time, or if it’s the first core for a student’s geo thesis, it’s a tradition to drink the clear water above the sediment,” he explains. “That’s the sediment-water interface. Hopefully, the bottom water is fresh and cool, not rich in reduced sulfur, that is, with a rotten-egg smell.”
Retelle notes that a former honors student, Wes Farnsworth ’11, has “carried on the IPA tradition” for his doctoral thesis in Nordaustlandet, in northeastern Svalbard.
Paul Phillips ’18 of New Gloucester, Maine, Chrissy McCabe ’16 of Bronxville, N.Y., and Julia Savage ’16 of Providence, R.I., sip their “Interface Pale Ale” last summer during research work in Svalbard with Professor of Geology Mike Retelle. (Photograph by Mike Retelle)
Best Acknowledgment for Willing to Be Cold
Robert Pladek ’76 wrote a government thesis on “Politics of the Funnies: The Influence of Political Cartoons on Public Perception of Political Leaders.”
The project required a survey, which he did by enlisting a crew of Bates friends, who, he noted in his acknowledgments, sacrificed a “Saturday morning to stand out in the cold.”
They were Jim Geitz ’77, Liz MacKie Venturato ’76, Lisa Dimock ’77, Rick Dwyer ’78, Brenda Flanagan Pladek ’76, Sue Archard Robert ’76, the late Polly Howlett ’76, Bill Nagel ’76, Rich Rothman ’79, Bruce Penney ’76, and Jan Malatesta Penney ’77.
Best Use of an Abraham Lincoln Quote
Sarah Weinstein Knowlton ’96 wrote a chemistry thesis on “Lanthanide-Crown Ether Couples as Chiral NMR Shift Reagents.” In dedicating it to her mother, she quoted Lincoln: “All that I am or hope to be I owe to my mother.”
She’s now an associate professor of physical sciences at Rhode Island College.
Best Thanks in French That We Think We Understand Even Without Using Google Translate
Christoph Berenbroick ’96 wrote a classical and Romance languages and literatures thesis on “Crise, Conscience et Deconstruction: Quatre Ecrivaines Devant ‘Lordre Naturel.’”
He wrote, “Merci à Kirk et à Denis pour les conversations qui m’ont beaucoup aideés à faire ce travail.”
That means, “Thanks to Kirk [Read] and Denis [Sweet] for conversations that have helped me with this work so much.”
Best Acknowledgment of the Blue Goose’s Place in Bates Life
In her interdisciplinary thesis on “Redefining Disability: A Case Study of Community and Art,” Anna Schechter ’06 thanked the Blue Goose for its “perfect mixture of serenity and dysfunction.”
Best Use of a Shakespeare Quote to Name a Thesis Group
In 2006, classmates Diana Gauvin, John Atchley, Benjamin Lebeaux, John Mulligan, and David Squires all did honors theses with Professor of English Sanford Freedman.
They called themselves “the Bunch,” and, being English majors, found a way to link the name to a telling line from English literature, specifically Measure for Measure:
Pompey: …’Twas in the Bunch of Grapes, where indeed you have a delight to sit, have you not?
Froth: I have so; because it is an open room, and good for winter.
Pompey: Why very well then: I hope here be truths.
Best Thanks to a Professor That Makes Us Want to Know So Much More
Erin Culbreth Hotchkiss ’06 wrote a history thesis on “‘Rough Hearts’: A Study of the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons from 410 to 640 AD as Viewed in the Context of the Transformations of the Christian Orthodox Church and the Western Roman Empire.”
She acknowledged that her inspiration to major in history came from Professor of History Michael Jones doing “Viking impressions.” Oh, do go on….
Best Thanks for Not Doing Something
Ashley Wentworth Kernan ’06 wrote a sociology thesis on “Are All White Jackets the Same? A Comparative Analysis of the Humanitarian Attitudes and Behaviors of Osteopathic and Allopathic Physicians.”
She thanked her fellow track and field teammates for “understanding not to say ‘the T word.’”
Best Thanks to Three Organized Geopolitical Units
Michael Maher ’96, writing a geology thesis on “Remote Sensing and Stratigraphic Analysis of Archaeological Site ME 16.7 Shell Midden, Indiantown Island, Maine,” offered thanks to:
“Colorado, South Carolina, and Ecuador for constantly providing me the memories, and the tranquility and serenity that help me continue to wake up from my slumber each new day.”
Best Thanks to a Group That Usually Gets Thanked Only When a Crime Is Involved
Jamie Merisotis ’86 wrote a political science thesis on “Bail Bondsmen, Politics, and the Administration of Justice.” He thanked all the bail bondsmen he interviewed for his thesis, “bewildered as they were about the purpose of an academic study on their profession.”
Best Sequence of Nouns in a Thank You
Tracey Begley ’06 wrote an anthropology thesis on “NGOs in the Face of Developmental Criticism: Humanitarian Landmine Removal in Afghanistan.”
She offered thanks to her friends for “support, laughter, patience, silliness, love, encouragement, coffee, emails, conversations, hugs, cards, chocolate, and long nights in Pettengill.”
Best Dedication for Doing What Comes Naturally
Julia Knight ’06, writing an art and visual culture thesis on “The Art of: Madame de Pompadour and Peggy Guggenheim,” dedicated her thesis to “women having sex all over the world, for pleasure or for power.”
Best Thanks for Helping to Find an Ocean, Or, the Ferdinand Magellan Award
Brian Dupee ’06 wrote a thesis on “The Effects of Baitworm Digging and Epibenthic Predation on the Growth and Survivorship of the Soft-Shelled Clam, Mya arenaria, and on the Abundance and Diversity of Soft-Sediment Infauna.”
He thanked fellow bio major Eben Sypitkowski ’05 because, if it weren’t for him, “I would still be driving around Woolwich looking for the ocean.”
A fantastic acknowledgements page had the academic twittersphere talking. Penned in the preliminary pages of an arcane book on dispensational modernism, Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed wondered aloud if it might be the best book acknowledgement ever.
In case you missed it, here it is:
“I blame all of you. Writing this book has been an exercise in sustained suffering. The casual reader may, perhaps, exempt herself from excessive guilt, but for those of you who have played the larger role in prolonging my agonies with your encouragement and support, well…you know who you are, and you owe me.”
It was written by Brendan Pietsch, assistant professor of religious studies at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. “After almost 10 years of working on it I couldn’t possibly come up with a full list of all the people who had helped,” he said.
By this author: A history of cats and academia
By this author: The weird world of academic Twitter
Such oddness in acknowledgements is not new. Researchers have thanked everyone from Rocco Siffredi (an Italian pornstar) for his “constant support”, to the thrash metal band Slayer for “continued advice and inspiration”, to Jon Frum (a cargo cult god). A couple of Barcelona fans working in the US managed to sneak in their home football chant, “Visca el Barça!”
“Unacknowledgements”, such as those in Pietsch’s book, are rarer than their positive counterparts, and are often as biting as they are amusing. The first such grumbling in an academic work appears to have been by three Italian researchers, who included an unackowledgements section in a paper:
“This work is ostensibly supported by the Italian Ministry of University and Research…The Ministry however has not paid its dues and it is not known whether it will ever do.”
Unsurprisingly, there are a few that relate to funding.
Sci-fi historian Adam Roberts wrote: “Let me record that I am not in the least grateful to the British Arts and Humanities Research Board – a plague on their house. That this book was ever completed owes nothing to them at all.” Evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen, who was “considered unconventional even by eccentrics”, wrote: “I thank the National Science Foundation for regularly rejecting my (honest) grant applications for work on real organisms, thus forcing me into theoretical work.”
Others explain the occasionally unusual circumstances surrounding their work:
- “Most of the paper was written during my daily commute from Vancouver to Surrey, Canada, and I would like to acknowledge TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation authority, for making the task of writing in buses and trains such an enjoyable exercise.”
- “If the book is not a success, I dedicate it to the burglars in Boulder, Colorado, who broke into our house and stole a television, two typewriters, my wife Helen's engagement ring and several pieces of cheese, somewhere about a third of the way through Chapter 8.”
- “…would also like to thank the U.S. Immigration Service under the Bush administration, whose visa background security check forced her to spend two months (following an international conference) in a third country, free of routine obligations – it was during this time that the hypothesis presented herein was initially conjectured.”
Chandler Davis was serving a prison sentence for refusing to cooperate with the House Unamerican Activities Committee when he wrote: “Research supported in part by the Federal Prison System. Opinions expressed in this paper are the author’s and are not necessarily those of the Bureau of Prisons.”
Many include passive-aggressive nods towards those who they feel have wronged them:
- “We appreciate the very candid critical insights of 2 anonymous reviewers, M. Gompper, and K. Beard.”
- “We would like to thank Karla Miller for sleeping late one morning, leaving Tim and Steve a bit bored.”
- “I thank Graham Higman for allowing the dust of Oxford to rest on my unopened manuscript for thirty months.”
- "We do not gratefully thank T. Appourchaux for his useless and very mean comments”
Caleb M. Brown helps us to end on a more positive note. He used his acknowledgments in a Cell paper to propose to his girlfriend – a fellow researcher at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada. She said yes.
Glen Wright tweets @AcademiaObscura (send any other amusing acknowledgements his way). The Academia Obscura book is coming soon.