Senior Projects: From Community Service to Cupcakes

Senior projects, on display this past Wednesday afternoon at Haffenreffer Gym, offer students the opportunity to chase dreams, pursue passions, engage in community service, tackle engineering problems, or fill cannoli, as the case may be.

For the last two weeks or so of senior year, members of the graduating class tackle independent study projects, many of their own design. It’s a longstanding Rivers tradition that allows seniors to make the most of their final high school days. The breadth of projects on display Wednesday attests to the wide range of interests among Rivers seniors, many of whom expressed gratitude and enthusiasm for the opportunity. To see a gallery of photos, click here.

For Rayna Hata, it was a chance to turn a long-held dream into reality. “I always wanted to do an independent study in robotics,” she said, as she prepared to demonstrate her creation: A stair-climbing robot designed to carry a backpack for a disabled person. The little mechanized platform rolled across the gym floor and climbed onto a cornhole board, on wheels whose shape might have reminded older viewers of 45 rpm adaptors. Those wheels were the hardest part, said Hata, who went through several iterations before landing on the laser-cut version that appeared on her project.

Abi Warwick also took the opportunity to fulfill a longstanding wish: The future RISD student designed and executed colorful wall murals for the GSA meeting room, inspired by both graffiti and the imagery of Keith Haring.

Other students also pursued artistic endeavors. Julie Bauriedel made a series of striking images by hand-coloring her own black-and-white photos, creating effects unachievable through Photoshop. She spent several hours each day on the project. It was a rare opportunity, she notes, “to have dedicated time to sit and do art, to experiment and dive deeply.” The experience left her with a keen awareness of the role art plays in her life, and she now feels more committed to pursuing it in college, she said.

Several students used the week to serve internships with organizations that align with their interests. Simonida Spasojevic took their love of music to a stint at Eureka Ensemble, a Boston organization that uses classical music as a platform for social action and community engagement. Khalil Scott-Shepherd said he set out knowing that he wanted to do a community-service internship, and he was excited when that aim landed him at Rosie’s Place, which, he noted, was the nation’s first shelter for women. There, he helped serve and prepare meals and saw firsthand the powerful impact of a kind gesture. “It was awesome,” he said. “A lot of hard work, but worth it.”

Bradley Stoller chose an internship in his anticipated future professional field, hospitality. He worked at the Hampton Inn, serving behind the front desk, helping with room inspections, and getting to see the hotel industry up close. Was it a valuable use of his time? “Oh, yes,” Stoller said emphatically. Anna Donlan and Leslie Schwartz’s internship took them behind the scenes at the Sports Hub, 98.5, where they shadowed on-air personality and Rivers parent Tony Massarotti. They didn’t get any airtime, but they did receive an exciting on-air shout-out at one point.

Xavier Zuvekas and Myles Epstein may have combined personal and commercial interests with their electric skateboard, designed to power the rider relatively effortlessly from here to there. Zuvekas says he hopes to use it to get around town next year when he’s a student at the University of Denver, and there’s also some thought of putting the board into commercial production. They think they could hit a sweet spot in the current marketplace between the pricey high-end models and the unreliable cheap versions.

And speaking of sweet spots, Cade Webber, Rory Casey, and Tony Andreozzi had set up an irresistible display in one corner of Haffenreffer, handing out cupcakes, cinnamon horns, cannoli, and other baked goods they’d created as part of their internship at Antoine’s Pastry Shop in Newton, owned by their hockey coach. For their senior project, the three had to arrive at the bakery at 4:30 a.m. and take on unfamiliar tasks like wielding a pastry bag—as demonstrated on Wednesday by Webber, who was filling cannoli on the spot. Did any of the bakery interns envision a future career in pastry, inspired by their experience? “No—it’s too hard,” said Casey.

Life lesson learned.