BHS Seniors Receive Blacker Prizes for Writing Excellence


James Celi Kitch, Mirilla Zhu, and Nanako Tokuo received the twenty-eighth annual Lillian F. Blacker Prizes for Excellence in Writing on Wednesday evening, May 16th, in a ceremony in the Belmont High School library.  The Blacker Prizes, awarded by the BHS English Department, are presented each year to three Belmont seniors for their outstanding senior theses.  Each senior at Belmont High Schools reads, researches, and writes a lengthy thesis paper investigating a literary topic. The thesis is a graduation requirement at the school.

Members of the high school English Department select the winning papers, and their writers receive scholarship money as prizes for their outstanding work.  Lindsey Rinder, Director of English, presided at the event with the assistance of Principal Dan Richards.  At the awards ceremony, the winners read from their papers and discussed the evolution of their ideas.  James Kitch discussed his first prize paper, “’Tongue to Tongue’: The Whorfian Hypothesis of Linguistic Relativity Across the Dystopian Works of Orwell, Atwood, Bradbury, and Huxley.”  Mirilla Zhu discussed her second prize paper, “Finding Voice: Explorations of Self and Society in the Brontë Novels.” Third place winner Nanako Tokuo discussed her paper entitled, “Words Cannot Save You: Nabokov’s Immortalized Sinners.” All three winners reflected on how much they learned from the process of writing the senior thesis, and their English educations in general.  As winner Mirilla Zhu said, thanking her English teachers, “Not only have they shaped me into a better writer, but they have also helped me to see the world in a different light through literature.”

In addition to the presentations by the competition winners, a panel of seniors discussed their topics and the senior thesis process.  Olivia Pierce, Kostas Tingos, Tess Stromberg, Miriam Cubstead, Samuel Bastille, and Lilly Devitt told parents and students about their process, their discoveries, and their insights into their authors.  Advice given to juniors included how to find authors they will enjoy, how to prepare over the summer before senior year, and how to utilize their English teachers as resources. They recommended staying open to new ideas and writing about what interests you.  Students spoke in particular of the meaning and personal significance they found in the literature they read.  Panelist Lily Devitt discussed how the characters in Barbara Kingsolver’s novels taught her the importance of living for others, and her own hopes to do so as she pursues a nursing career in the future.  Panelist Sam Bastille spoke movingly about learning from Margaret Atwood to consider time not as fixed in the past but as “a series of liquid transparencies” that one looks through and can bring to bear on the future.

Family and friends established these writing awards in memory of Lillian F. Blacker, a longtime Belmont resident who was very active in community affairs, a former editor of the Belmont Citizen, and long-time director of the Harvard Medical News Office. As part of the ceremony, Elissa Levine, daughter of Lillian Blacker, gave brief reminiscences of her mother.  Lillian Blacker’s granddaughter, Sarah Levine, was also present, along with Superintendent John Phelan and Assistant Superintendent Janice Darias, who congratulate the winners, and all seniors, on their accomplishments


Notable Senior Theses
Belmont High School
May 2018
Each senior at BHS completes a senior thesis as part of the required twelfth grade English
curriculum. A notable senior thesis is an accomplished piece of written work developed
over the course of the school year under the direction and supervision of the classroom
teacher. Teachers have identified students who have carefully followed the thesis process
and written an outstanding paper. The students listed below completed notable theses in a
variety of senior English classes.
Winners of the 2018 Lillian F. Blacker Prizes for Excellence in Writing:
James Kitch “Tongue to Tongue”: The Whorfian Hypothesis of Linguistic Relativity
1st place Across the Dystopian Works of Orwell, Atwood, Bradbury, and Huxley
Mirilla Zhu Finding Voice: Explorations of Self and Society in the Brontë Novels
2nd place
Nanako Tokuo Words Cannot Save You: Nabokov’s Immortalized Sinners
3rd place
Writer Title of Notable Thesis
Naomi Arsenault Psychological Criticism: Qu’est-ce que C’est? Society’s Effect on One’s
Mentality in Edith Wharton’s Novels
Lou Lou Baghdady You’ve Got a Friend in Me: The Development of Friendship through the
Clash of Light and Dark
Olivia Bible Life and Death as Holocaust Memorial in Nicole Krauss’s Novels
Benjamin S. Brody Irony Against the Established: Heller’s Crusade to Undermine Organized
Haley Brown Tied to Your Mother’s Apron Strings: How the Preoedipal Bond, the
Electra Complex, and Overcompensation Influence Lesbian Sexuality in
the Works of Audre Lorde, Rita Mae Brown, Alice Walker, and Alison
Eric Chao Faithful Despair: Surreal Imagery Giving Hope in the Nihilistic Worlds of
Cormac McCarthy
Albert Chen “Rotten Under the Surface”: Nature and Conformity in Dystopia
Jess Chen Tragic Society: Social Satire in the Works of George Bernard Shaw and
Oscar Wilde
Johnna Crowley Suppressive Men: The Lasting Effects of Males on African American
Miriam Cubstead Gender Politics and Video Games: The Thematic Exclusion of Women
from Science-Fiction
Julia Cunningham “Unindicted Co-Conspirators in Their Own Oppression”: The Effects of
Societal Oppression in Margaret Atwood’s Novels
Grace Curtis “Anaconda Love: Exploring the Question of Motherhood as an Entity of
Female Identity in the Works of Toni Morrison
Leen Diab Birds Throughout History: Cultural Identity and Personal Freedom in the
Works of Barbara Kingsolver
Meredith Eagar Life, Love, and Oscar Wilde’s Movement Towards Acceptance
Thor Elfarsson Modernizing Totalitarianism in Dystopia: The Weaponization of Human
Nayun Eom “Why Men Make Wars”: Toxic Masculinity and Belonging in Vietnam
War Novels by Tim O’Brien, Robert Olen Butler, Bao Ninh, and Duong
Thu Huong
Lydia Fick Searching for the Strength to Stray: Identity Formation of LGB Women
Featured in a Selection of Novels from Audre Lorde, Alice Walker,
Jeanette Winterson, and Alison Bechdel
Eliza Filler “Expectation of something without a shape or name”: The Societal Quest
for Meaning in the Works of Margaret Atwood
Aidan Fox An Evaluation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Diasporic Literature Through Her Four
Mary Galstian The Identity Question Resolved: Turning to Culture for Fulfillment
Caleb Harris Fulfillment Starts Within: Overcoming Internal Barriers in the Works of
Dave Eggers
Seneca Hart Atwood and Defense Mechanisms: How Misogynistic Societies Control
Eva Hill “Or Else the Light”: Rage, Hope, and Stereotypes in Science Fiction,
Examined Through Works by Margaret Atwood, Joanna Russ, Sinclair
Lewis, and Ray Bradbury
Shodai Inose Pho-nny “Slant-Eye” Joke, Bro: Accentuating Disconnection through
Cultural Connections in Asian-American Literature
Wonyoung Jang “I Can’t Go On”: Irony and Inevitable Suffering in Samuel Beckett and
Franz Kafka’s Works
Eliza Jones Land of the Troubled: Exploring the Conflict Between Self and
Surroundings in Updike’s America
Edgar Kazarian From Optimism to Nihilism: Cormac McCarthy’s Dive into the Human
Quest for Meaning, Purpose, and Understanding in Life
Anoush Krafian The Fall of Patriarchy: African American Women’s Rise to Power
Rachel Liang Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey Stuff: Examining the Impact of Time on
Humanity’s Connections
Rick Lee The Epidemic of Subjective Objectivity: Examining the Danger of
Conformity Under Dysfunctional Governments
Sophie Lefebvre Corruption at the Core: Society’s Chauvinistic Predisposition in the Works
of Charlotte and Emily Bronte
Kate Lester The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Love: Meaning and Insignificance
in Milan Kundera
Katherine Libenson The Revival of a Primitive Ethical Paradigm in Cormac McCarthy’s
Emily Logan The Search for “The Thing that Endures”: Virginia Woolf and the Meaning
of Art
Julia Logan Paradox in Society’s Upward Mobility Race: The Complex Relationship
Between Desire and Realism in Edith Wharton’s Works
Erin Looney Feminism: Submission And The Bold Defiance That Juxtaposes Dissent
Within Austen’s Novels
Natalie A Journey from Entrapment to Liberation: Female Strength in Alice
Marcus-Bauer Walker’s The Color Purple, The Third Life of Grange Copeland,
Meridian, and The Temple of My Familiar
Ainslee McMullin Margaret Atwood’s Exploration of the Importance of Female Friendship
and Self-Actualization
Sofia Noorouzi There’s No Solution to Darkness: Trauma in the Works of Shirley Jackson
Lizeth Parra Arroyo Questioning the Existence of Fate: The Sense of Postcolonial
Uncontrollability in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Work
Elena Parsons Conformity and its Consequences: The Effects of Gender Roles on the
Human Psyche
Olivia Pierce “A Suffrage Sash Across Her Bosom”: Advocacy and Hypocrisy in the
Novels of Sarah Waters
Mick Pomer Contemporary Conformity: Examining Alienation Through a Modern
Thomas Phillips Salvation Through Sin: The Devil’s Relationship to Protagonists of
Western Literature
Jackson Pullman Eden: Nature and Voice in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, King Coal,
Dragon’s Teeth, and Oil!
Mikayla Riselli Exploring the Limits of Government Intervention: Regressive Progression
Within the Realm of Dystopia
Niklas Roberts The Untold Stories of Addiction: How Social Stigma Affects Addicts
Jessica Rosenstein Waging War on Mankind: The Exploitation of Violent Human Flaws in
McCarthy’s Works
Jiayi Ruan The Mind’s Machinations Through Lists: A Rip-Roaring Journey with
Virginia Woolf
Alexa Sabatino Addressing the Elephant in the Room: A Journey with Mental Illness
Michael Samuelian “Inglorious Glorification”: Analysis of Religious Allusion in John
Steinbeck’s East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, and
Tortilla Flat
Emma Sass Failure to Escape Reality: Irving’s Perception of Predetermined Fate
Sofia Scholzman The Impossibility of Telling True Stories: Vladimir Nabokov and the
Transformative Powers of Perspective
Becca Schwartz The Hero’s Journey: Discovering Identity through Isolation
Dillon Sheehan All In The Family: The Power of Broken Relationships and Dreams In
Plays By Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Eugene O’Neill
Kostas Tingos The Importance of One’s Mindset: McCarthy’s Exploration of
Confronting an Evil World
John Travia Democracy Dies with Thunderous Applause: The Ironic Failure of the
Government to Serve the People in Literature
Zack Tseng The Simultaneous Community and Individualism in Dostoyevskian
Shira Vilvovsky The Anxiety of Desire and Morality:The Complexity of the Id, Ego, and
Superego in Tennessee Williams’ Works
Evan Wagner Veselijas, Peaches, Steak Knives, A Haircut: One Hundred Years of
American Protest Literature, Juxtaposed
Jiajia Zhang The Villain and His Sidekick: The Gothic Horror Villain and His Foil as
Byronic Heroes transcending Male Gender Norms