Completing Honors: More Than a Project – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Completing Honors: More Than a Project

Senior Sarah Canavan can breathe a sigh of relief, as she has just completed her rigorous honors project in writing and rhetoric. With a writing and rhetoric major and a Writing Colleagues and English double minor, Canavan has always been a high achiever. In addition to graduating a year early, Canavan is part of the HWS pre-law program, and plans to attend law school next fall.

“I’ve had the opportunity to explore a lot of different types of writing from journalism to memoir to fiction, and I love them all,” she explains. Now that she is done with her honors work, Canavan will spend her last semester abroad in Norwich, England taking prose fiction writing and several literature classes, indulging her love for stories.

In terms of extracurricular activities, Canavan is part of the Leadership program, works at the Center for Teaching and Learning as a writing colleague, is a Learn2Lead participant/mentor, and resides at the Hope House. Outside of school, she founded a nonprofit organization called SSWII, Inc. (Supporting Students With Illness or Injury), which is dedicated to providing social support to high school and college students dealing with a major illness or injury.

“I founded SSWII in 2006 after I was diagnosed with a serious kidney disease that took over the greater part of my high school years. SSWII tries to help bridge the social gap that is inevitably created when a student is separated from the school community and all the fun stuff that goes along with that, like friends, parties, sports, etc.”

Because of her personal experience, Canavan was inspired to begin her honors project. “I decided to do Honors because I had this idea to write a book for teenagers on how to deal with serious illness or injury in peers, but I had no idea how to write a book,” she says. Professor Cheryl Forbes suggested that she start the book as an Honors Project. With a strong idea for the project and an open mind, Canavan began her Honors journey. “The Honors Program is so open that it really allowed me the opportunity to work on a project that I was passionate about and learn things that I may not have had the chance to if I were taking traditionally structured classes,” she says.

Canavan’s project, “A Friend, Indeed: A teenager’s guide to facing serious illness in peers,” is a book that helps teens deal with serious illness or injury in friends, including communication strategies, tips for activities, validation and help understanding their possible feelings, and more. More than just a self-help book, Canavan also included narrative interludes between chapters of personal stories of what it’s like to deal with illness and the different social aspects that people may not recognize.

“I included my story, as well as interviews with teenagers. I tried hard to include multiple perspectives,” she says. Canavan has now completed a significant portion of the book, written a cover letter, and packaged it to send to publishers.

Canavan believes she has grown as both a person and a writer because of her honors project, even though the process was long and arduous. “There were some months when I spent more time in my cage on the third floor of the library than I did in my room. At one point I thought about putting a sleeping bag and a toothbrush in there,” she laughs.

Committing to one single project over the course of an entire year taught Canavan that with great effort comes great rewards. “You really have to pour your heart and soul into it because if you do anything less, then it’s a waste of a whole year of your life. But it’s so rewarding to print out that final copy and know that you did something really cool, something that you really care about. It’s a great feeling.”