Hello future capstoners…

or as T fondly calls us, WRITERS!!!

I’m not even sure where, exactly, to begin, because the world seems so distinctly uncertain. Our semester was cut short by coronavirus, with the essential last month of our capstone complicated by remote learning and a global pandemic and what not. As I write, I’m not sure what will happen next semester; I’m not even sure, really, what will happen next week. Living through such an unprecedented time is odd, because it has fundamentally altered everything, really.

But I am also optimistic that you all will have the benefit of time. The four months between now and the start of the fall semester as it normally would begin are impossible to predict, and I have no idea where you will be taking this class from, and how you’ll be taking it. But so many things can happen in four months, from a vaccine to a horrendous resurgence that postpones colleges resuming entirely until the winter, or after the pandemic—I have no idea, and only you, reading this in the future, do. But whatever situation it is, whether it’s way better than we anticipated or it’s worse, you will at least be prepared, unsurprised by whatever adjustments you have to make. The elements of surprise, of disruption, of shock and fear, dictated time throughout a crucial juncture of our capstone projects, but whether you are partially or entirely remote, starting this project from the get-go in one way, not being unsure or feeling like a real life beta test for your tens of thousands of dollars of tuition, will be an advantage.

As for what to write about? Genuinely, just write what you want. And this seems incredibly oversimplified but I’ve given this advice to all my classmates all semester, even myself too. This project will be easiest to create and the best representation of your writing, the best culmination of your writing minor or senior year or capstone or college experience, if you write from your heart. Apologies for the cliche, but the most phenomenal part about the writing minor, and my capstone class in particular, has been how honest and raw everyone is willing to write and share. Most of these projects are personal, and they make me feel more than a lot of work I’ve seen. I think this is possible no matter what; whether you’re on Zoom or in person or in haptic suits, write for you.

Searching for Clarity

Since my last virtual appearance here, a lot has changed. I approached this project totally lost, with a million ideas that felt not good enough and none that felt great. In all honesty, this is classic me. I approach projects like this a lot, so overwhelmed by the extreme potential that I find myself paralyzed by the decision making and organizing. A lot of the time, I rely on the universe to strike me with an idea, for things to just suddenly click when I need them to, in the last hour (literally) when I’m once scrambling to write papers the day they are due. So the idea of a big project, of the commitment to one idea for the whole semester, was daunting.

Live footage of me writing an essay I forgot about the day it’s due

My indecision lasted for a while–actually, until Sunday night, to be exact. I’ve started a new thing recently where I keep a pad of post-it notes and a pen on my bedside table so I can write down the late night insomnia thoughts I want to remember. At about 1:30 AM, I realized how to pull together all the things I wanted to do, which I will attempt to explain now, after this brief interruption from the multimedia I’ve decided to randomly insert into this blog post

My! plan! is!!!!! Ok, so to adequately explain this, I think I have to back track. Initially, I wanted to write a novel, because I love to take on unrealistic projects I don’t have the motivation for. This evolved into a novella, which evolved into a short story. But I was unsatisfied with this idea of just writing a fictional short story for a few reasons. First, I wanted to use my experience. I don’t want to write pure nonfiction or memoir pieces, but I want to take inspiration from my life and perspective and semi-fictionalize these stories, putting them to another character. I also really wanted to touch on the themes of growing up, finishing college, becoming an adult, getting jobs, college dating/love/sex/hook up culture, friendships, etc. I realized the perfect way to integrate all of these is to write multiple short stories, and the stories that strike me the most are those that I hear from others. Thus, I plan to use in-person interviews to get inspiration for the short stories, which I will write with as much or little fidelity to truth as I feel so compelled to.

I’m now really excited bout my project. The stress that came along with creating totally fictional plots is absolved, and I am inspired by the idea of talking to all the incredible people I have met throughout college, using these stories to represent the ups and downs, paradoxical lifestyle, and ridiculous moments and friendships that college has brought me. I hope my stories feel like honest representations of what if feels to grow up at this time. The opportunity to write these stories about growing up at this exact time, the end of my education, the start of my official adulthood, feels like the kind of significance I was looking for in this project.

I am of course anxious about the work that remains ahead, but I am more excited. I also just wanted to go on record and say that I think our class is awesome and talented, and I’m even more excited to see the project development of everyone else and to start workshopping and sharing our work.

For those of you who got this far, I commend you, but am also kind of wondering why. Shout out to Max for reminding me to do this blog post, anti-shout out to the airport restaurant I’m in that only plays angsty 80s rock and to Spirit Airlines for delaying my flight for hours and overall just sucking always. Here’s to the overly ambitious production plans we made for ourselves; hope everyone didn’t schedule writing an entire play for spring break like Alex did! Happy spring break second semester senior year, where some of my friends are bridesmaids at their best friends weddings and going on romantic vacations with their boyfriends and then some of us are…… not… xoxo see you all soon have a great break!! 🙂

Weird GIFS and memes brought to you by hours to kill in the airport

Capstone Project???!?

So I actually didn’t pitch because I wasn’t in class/in Ann Arbor last week, but my experience in class was really helpful. Hearing my peers’ ideas was exciting. My group was particularly interesting because we are all in Ford together, so we know each other in a different academic setting. Writing is more creative, less bound by spoken and unspoken norms and guidelines of public policy. It was uplifting to hear how both boundary-pushing and aspirational the ideas of my peers were, going past interests in our major or typical academic pursuits, doing things that are new and different, and taking advantage of what feels like a final semester for experimentation and exploration before we graduate. Nick’s project pitches reflected what I know about his personality in their clarity and obvious intelligence, and after hearing Nick’s really apt descriptions of feeling ungrounded and disconcerted with the end of college, I am incredibly excited to get to know more about these more personal and creative avenues. Similarly, Venela’s incredibly personal and moving topic struck me because she of her clear vision on the kind of project she wants to pursue, and her willingness to confront such deeply emotional experiences in this project. With this boldness in mind, I felt more equipped to think about my pitches.

A frequent problem of mine is that I have so many theoretically good ideas, but they feel half-baked, underdeveloped–for lack of a better word, not that good. It is extremely difficult to make decisions between an initially overwhelming amount of promising ideas but ultimately underwhelming amount of really viable ideas. I’m currently working with better refining my ideas, distinguishing what is actually good and promising, and what is an idea that lacks the depth, character or passion I’m looking for in this project. I guess we’ll see where this goes…

Introduction to Blogs

For my first two experiments, I did an op-ed and a photo essay. These experiments focused a lot on what college essays are, specifically if they accurately represent people and if the questions and the nature of college essays as a whole give students the opportunity to present themselves as complex, honest individuals.

For my third experiment, I want to move away from exploring the intent and results of college essays and focus more on the content of my college essay itself. I wrote a lot about anxiety and how it has made me a stronger individual, a more capable leader, and a more empathetic person to help others deal with their anxiety. All of this is true, but the nature of the competitive college application process encourages people to present obstacles as ones they have fully overcome and are better because of. In reality, anxiety disorders are often chronic and lifelong. People in my group suggested I annotate my college essay to comment on things that were unsaid then and now. Incorporating this idea, I’m going to write a blog discussing this.

Blogs are a pretty versatile genre and allow for individual expression, but there are a few general guidelines to follow.

  • Find a focus. This allows you to target and retain a certain audience that is consistently interested in the content you’re discussing. It also gives you more credibility, rather than dabbling in various areas that you might not know that much about, or write or think about often.
  • Make your blogs interactive. Using links, pictures, gifs, and other interactive elements make blogs more interesting and informative. Links provide more information for people who may be further interested in a topic you’re discussing and give credibility and support to what you’re talking about. Graphics make your blog more interesting, fun, and easy to read.
  • Be relatable and authentically yourself. Blogs are supposed to express the voices and opinions of individuals, and the best writing is when it is authentic.

The most important part of blog writing is to be yourself and talk about things you’re passionate about. If you do this, your blog will attract people who are interested in what you have to say. And since everyone here has gone through the college application process, and many college students experience chronic anxiety, I’m hoping this will be interesting.

Introduction to the Photo Essay

For my second experiment, I decided to do a photo essay. I’ve never really explored this medium before so I’m really excited about trying it.

I also think this will be a really cool way to reimagine my origin piece (my college essay). My college essay focused on me and my first experiment–an op-ed–still included quite a bit of my own experience but also aimed to more broadly speak to the college essay itself–what it is, if they are truly representative of individuals, what they should be, etc. I think a photo essay will be a great medium to get to explore the representativeness of individuals, both at the time they were written (approximately the end of junior/beginning of senior year of high school) and now. I craft my photo essay similarly to Humans of New York, which is a blog based in New York City which features photos of individuals with quoted brief stories about themselves and their thoughts and experiences. I plan to ask some of my friends and peers how they feel their college essay represented them when they wrote it, what they aimed to convey, and how true their college essay is now, approximately three years later. This testament will be paired with a picture of the individual which well represents their personality and/or the topic of their essay.

Photo essays are a genre that allows for quite a bit of flexibility and creativity. Generally, the point is for a series of photos to tell a story, often accompanied by text–but the photos are the core of the project, as the primary point that people will see, think about, and imagine a story for before even reading the text–which is why capturing pictures that represent my friends and their experiences is so important. Humans of New York is a bit different than a typical photo essay, but I think it’s the best format for me for this project.

Some important elements of a photo essay are:

  • the story that is conveyed through the pictures alone
  • a variety of photos that keep viewers interested and engaged
  • ordering the photos in such a way that they effectively create a narrative and follow a logical sequence
  • being both informational and emotional
  • including captions that provide descriptions to ensure the viewer understands the story you’re telling

Ultimately, the most powerful parts of photo essays are the emotional and representative aspects, creating a strong narrative. A lot of people have really interesting stories and college essay topics, and I am excited to attempt to capture them through my photo essay.

An example of a photo essay:


My friend Michelle’s photo essay (her MiW Gateway final project):


Some of my favorite HONY posts:


Introduction to Op-Eds

I decided to experiment with an op-ed for this project. My original piece is my college essay–written three years ago by me, about me, with the intention of showing why I would be a good candidate for admission to the colleges I applied to. My college essay was deliberately constructed, starting with an element of myself that could theoretically be a character flaw–anxiety–but through a careful arc of anecdotes, personal development and reflection, eventually seeking to prove itself to be a strength, something that sets me apart but has made me a stronger, more capable student and person. I think college essays are generally constructed in this quite deliberate way; whether they are focusing on something quite serious or pivotal in one’s life, such as the death of a loved one or a mental or physical struggle, or something as simple but symbolic and telling as a favorite food. To me, it seems that a lot of people write about these life-changing moments or experiences–as my peers and I wrote our essays, experiences like deaths and eating disorders seemed like automatic topics. However, my mom is now a college counselor (helping students with their college process, not working with a college or high school) and I’ve thought a great deal about her thoughts on college essays. Specifically, she thinks that this very specific type of essay–one that shows that you are not perfect and your life has not been perfect, but these experiences have made you stronger, more well-rounded, a better candidate for admission (and ultimately, you are ok and perhaps now even better than when you started, even if this is realistically untrue)–is not good, because it shows a flaw. If you have struggled with anxiety, admitting you is essentially a flight risk. If you have struggled with an eating disorder, admitting you is a flight risk. And I don’t know if that’s true or fair. I think if someone wrote about a physical illness or disability–say, having cancer or being in a wheelchair, it wouldn’t face the stigma that these mental struggles do. While college essays are typically very embellished and carefully constructed, the idea of writing about a weakness that has made you stronger is at least, theoretically, offering quite an honest and genuine perspective about yourself and how you’ve come to be.

All of this is to explain the question this has led me to explore through an op-ed: what is a college essay?

Op-eds collaborate thought and opinion with factual evidence; they are well written, but incorporate casual anecdotes, appeals to readers, and even humorous additions. This unique combination of different writing styles is perfect for someone to explore an opinion or idea and seek to share and prove their thoughts. Op-eds typically follow quite a few guidelines. Duke University’s Office of News and Communications’ style guide for op-eds specifies 20 guidelines to follow. A few of the most essential ones:

  • Shorter is better–aim for 750 words or less.
  • Address only one problem, make that one point well, and make it clear at the top of your article.
  • Appeal to readers specifically, personally, and anecdotally. Why should they care?
  • Acknowledge the other side–but make sure you come out on top.
  • Write in an active voice, and one that is understandable by a wide audience.

One of my favorite outlets for op-eds is, of course, The New York Times. My reading of opinion pieces here has definitely influenced how I conceptualize op-eds, and how I plan to write my own.

For further resources, this is The New York Times’s opinion page: https://www.nytimes.com/section/opinion.

A recent opinion piece by Anita Hill on the Cavanaugh proceedings: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/18/opinion/anita-hill-brett-kavanaugh-clarence-thomas.html?emc=edit_ne_20180918&nl=evening-briefing&nlid=7731757820180918&te=1.

Another guide for writing op-eds: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/opinion/tips-for-aspiring-op-ed-writers.html

Olivia Turano Introduction

Hi! I’m Olivia Turano and I’m a junior majoring in Public Policy. I’m really passionate about social justice and plan to focus on social and criminal justice and human rights policy (I think). I might go to law school, but not 100% positive–I love law and have always planned on being a lawyer, but I’m also really interested in politics and might be interested in pursuing non-profits, political work, or even maybe consulting (like political or social responsibility? There are so many fields and it’s really  overwhelming.) I’m from New York City and can attest that it is, in fact, the greatest city on earth. I love baseball and am a huge Yankee fan. I live with my parents and 15-year-old sister. I am best friends with my parents and after years of viciously hating each other, I am also really close to my sister now. I’ve been told I’m identical to my mom, dad, and sister at various times–picture included so you can be the judge.

A lot of my interests revolve around politics and social justice. Beyond that, I love to read and Harry Potter is my guilty pleasure. I like running but do so in constant fear of getting another stress fracture because I stress fractured my femur last December and was on crutches for a while (contrary to popular belief, crutches are NOT fun and I do not recommend at all). I’m really excited about starting the Minor in Writing and exploring my writing on a deeper level this semester.