Celebrating the Seniors and Their Projects We Missed Last Spring

This article originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of STILLPOINT magazine.

If the spring semester had gone as planned, the Class of 2020 would have spent hours across campus preparing senior recitals, final presentations and honors theses to share with friends and family.

Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic came barreling through, forcing more than 300 seniors to return to or stay home after spring break and find creative workarounds to complete and present their senior projects. Some turned spare rooms at home into art and performance studios; others spent countless hours on Zoom, collaborating with teammates on songs, podcasts, websites and even church services; and others holed up with online research resources to crank out dozens of pages of final papers.

Originally published in the fall 2020 issue of STILLPOINT, The Bell is sharing the stories of three of these seniors:

Meredith Free ’20 | Making, Unmaking and Remaking

As Meredith Free ’20 sands the wooden surface of her painting of her mother sitting under a red maple tree, the image is destroyed. But the more Free removes, the more she discovers. New layers of the panel reveal what she calls a “third creation”—something deeper and more beautiful than her original impression.

The new graduate, a Kenneth L. Pike scholar who studied the history of ideas and fine arts, is putting the final touches on the paintings as part of her senior thesis. Free’s thesis paintings and accompanying essay explore the theme of tree imagery in relation to grief. It’s a topic she knows personally, having grieved her mother’s passing just months before Free’s first year at Gordon. Her thesis is more than an intellectual connection between grief and art—it’s a physical immersion in the process.

“I’m, in a way, actively destroying the piece, just as grief feels like it’s actively destroying us,” says Free. “But by doing that— unmaking as I’m remaking—I’m creating something better than both the creation and destruction. It’s a third creation that captures something deeper and something more beautiful than just my life lived with my mother or my life lost with my mother.”

Free’s collection features nearly a dozen paintings of trees— abstract branches, an impression of bark, a forest scene sprinkled with forsythia—and portraiture. Some of her work uses Nihonga, the traditional form of Japanese painting she learned as an intern for world-renowned artist Makoto Fujimara, that uses crushed semi-precious minerals. Ground up and destroyed then suspended in animal hide glue, the minerals refract light in a way that again illuminates the beauty in destruction.

“I want to impart to viewers that the experiences that they’ve had— which may seem like the most traumatic or scarring ones that they’ve had—are valid, not just in the horrific things that they’ve undergone, but in the ways that they’ve grown from them,” she says. “And those are beautiful.”

View Art senior projects >

Jes Mabanglo ’20 | Penning a Human Connection

Last spring, real actors got hired to play the TV characters Jes Mabanglo ’20 had penned herself. She says, “It was crazy to watch other production teams put real people into the roles I’d made up in my head.” Although her time as a student in the L.A. Film Studies Program and chance to work with a Hollywood production team was cut short when the pandemic hit, it gave Mabanglo a foot in what some would call a fairly well-guarded door. Already, a Hollywood producer has asked to see more of her writing.

Over the last four years, Mabanglo’s pen has been rather busy at Gordon—writing sketches for the late-night comedy show Exit 17 and class comedy competition Golden Goose, some of Kai’s dialogue and character arch in the performance As I Am, a speech for the JUD Talks competition, an oral story for the Public Story Symposium and two short films that each won first place in their categories at Gordon Globes. One of these short films, “Talk Up the Talk,” also won the People’s Choice Award at an international film festival run by ConnectHER (where Mabanglo got on a first name basis with Pamela Ribon, one of the screenwriters for Disney’s Moana).

Right now, Mabanglo is in her first semester of graduate school at Emerson College in Boston, where she’s pursuing an MFA in writing for film and television. Someday, she hopes to write for HBO, Amazon or Netflix.

Behind every story Mabanglo tells is a desire to connect with others. She explains, “I think to really make a change or move on with my life, I have to share my experiences with someone else. Even if I write a blog post, I will turn to the person next to me and ask, ‘Do you want to read this?’ Only after that exchange does writing become therapy. It’s not so much affirmation that I need; it’s connection. It’s knowing I’m not alone in this experience that I’ve had.”

View Communication Arts senior projects >

Evan Platzer ’20 | The Sanctity of Smartphones

In northern Tanzania, where paved roads are hard to come by and houses are made primarily of mud and grass, the Maasai people can be found checking weather forecasts on their smartphones. The World Bank estimates that, in many developing countries, more people have access to a smartphone than they do to clean drinking water or electricity. “And so, the best way to get Scripture to them is in the form of a Scripture app,” says Evan Platzer ’20, a computer science and linguistics double major and the first graduate of Gordon’s Bible Translation Program. “But building a Bible reading app is a pretty tricky process.”

Platzer spent months improving Wycliffe’s Scripture app builder as a language software developer intern last summer. “Every translation that Wycliffe produces, we can then make an app for,” He says. “The builder I’ve helped to program works with every language you give it. It’s extremely flexible and was created specifically for minority languages and for all ongoing translations.”

This project and the Bible Translation Program have introduced Platzer to a kind of work that uniquely blends computer science and linguistics—programming languages and human languages.

And programming a Bible reading app builder is just the start. In the years to come, he aspires to join in the work Wycliffe is already doing to utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning to speed up the translation process. He explains, “The machine could take a really small sample [of a minority language] and do a rough draft of the entire Bible. It would still need refinement. It would not be the inspired Word of God at that point, but it would be a framework to work from. That’s the dream for me.”

View Computer Science senior projects >

Visit www.gordon.edu/seniorshowcase for a virtual version of the projects, presentations, papers and performances that would have been displayed around campus—or, at the very least, consumed minds in corners of Jenks Library and Chester’s Place late into the night—for the final quad of the academic year.