Azariah Kurlantzick reflects on presenting their honors thesis at the 51st Annual NeMLA Convention, the final event they attended before Clark shut down.
As a senior, it’s easy to feel like I’m losing a lot over the next few months. Graduation is online, Senior Week is canceled, my final Spring Fling took place virtually. I have just submitted a complete draft of my honors thesis to both of my readers so that I can defend it on Zoom with my spotty WIFI connection. Fortunately, before the world collapsed, I got to cap my four years at Clark with an incredibly fulfilling academic experience, though it was one that did not take place on campus.
The last large gathering I attended before school (and everything else) shut down was the 51st annual convention of NeMLA, the northeast branch of the Modern Language Association. Thousands of scholars in different humanities fields gathered at a hotel in Boston to connect around their areas of expertise, and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. Last semester, I was surprised and honored to find I was selected to present a poster in the NeMLA Undergraduate Forum on my honors thesis. Anxious and excited, I braved the crowds along with a few graduate students from our English department (one of whom, Kaitlynn Chase, also gave a fabulous panel presentation at the conference!).
Over the course of the weekend, I attended panels on topics ranging from superhero comics to the American Gothic. I connected with academics from other universities, asking questions during their panel presentations, getting their advice for my project, and sharing resources relevant to their research. This was my first time venturing into the wider world of academia and I found it to be exactly what I expected: vast, overwhelming, and incredibly exciting to engage with.
Armed with note cards and my grandfather’s holey, elbow-patched cardigan, I approached my poster presentation with terror. Happily, I was met with many interested passers-by who let me ramble on at them about time structures and monsters (central aspects of my project) and forgave my fumbles and stutters. One person even came to the Undergraduate Forum looking for me specifically because I had mentioned my research in a question I asked at a panel the previous day. NeMLA took a video of me talking about my research and my experience at the convention and I greatly enjoyed listening to my peers’ presentations as they happened around me. I left thoroughly exhausted, but with more confidence than I had when I went in, which was only bolstered by the news that my poster had been voted “Best Visual Presentation of the Project” out of all of the undergraduate presenters.
With the rest of my time at college taking place through virtual channels, I feel especially lucky to be able to remember attending and presenting at NeMLA as closing my undergraduate experience. Without the English department’s support, encouragement, and help securing funding, I certainly could not have gone, and I am incredibly grateful for the department’s work supporting students in all of our scholarly ventures. Having gotten a taste of what academia looks like beyond Clark, I feel far more optimistic about the possibility of returning to it when the world comes back together.