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It would ask me questions, it would give me answers and it would forgive me for procrastinating.

If my thesis could talk, it would be proud of me, of you, of us. It would be give me a high-five and say, “Yes, you’ve got pages to go – but think about how many you’ve written.” It would be delighted that we, as seniors, have made it this far.

Since it’s a history thesis, it would talk about dates. It would remind me of May 14, 2015, when I landed in London to start my research. It would remind me of October, when I wrote the absolutely brilliant first word of my thesis (“When”).

It would remind me of May 20, 2015. I was flipping through Pakistani newspaper clippings at the British Library in London when the elderly woman sitting next to me elegantly adjusted her hijab. She asked me why I was reading that particular news clip, why I was interested in Pakistani history. She told me that she had survived the violence in Lahore; in fact, she had been there when the violence broke out. Suddenly, the lights of the Asian and African Reading Room felt immensely bright, and Sahiba, 68 years later and thousands of miles away from home, was telling me her story – the story I was reading in the yellowed newspaper clipping I held in my hands.

My thesis would ask me why I wanted to study history in the first place. It would fact-check me: Did you really, truly read that book, or just the introduction? Are you sure about that date? Is that the correct translation? It would encourage me to use spell-check.

It would tell me not to carry around books all day that I’m not going to read and that I should actually use my thesis locker.

It would offer a lot of opinions. It would tell me to treat the current number of pages as the Thesis-Half-Full, instead of the Thesis-Half-Empty. (It would also demand me to be honest and admit that it's really more like the Thesis-Third-Full.)

It would talk about other theses with reverence and curiosity. Though biased towards the discipline of history, it would advise me to tell my friends, the authors of those other theses, that regardless of discipline, their work is important.

My thesis would remind me that this really isn’t so bad, and it’s pretty cool to be writing a book with an editor who is an expert in his field. It would remind me that I am one of over 1,000 seniors, all in the same boat. It would point out,as another source of comfort, how thousands more alumni somehow finished their theses. My thesis would insist that it is, and isn’t, the capstone project of the “Princeton experience.” It would argue that yes, we are lucky to have been given time and an advisor and libraries and the Writing Center, and it would also say that there’s nothing wrong with writing a less-than-Pulitzer-winning conclusion. And that yes, I’ll probably have a typo or two, and that’s okay. Michelle Obama did too.

It would remind me that the best lesson I’ve learned at Princeton is to not be ashamed when asking for help, to not be shy, to know that all the best thinkers and leaders stood on the shoulders of giants before them and achieved greatness with the help of giants around them.

My thesis would want to be read, of course, and to occupy a prominent place on my shelf. But what my thesis would want, most of all, is for us to know the Secret of the thesis – that which we might, or might not, learn when the thesis is bound and done and sealed in leather – the Secret of the thesis is that you can do it. That writing a whole thesis as a twenty-something is actually an amazing accomplishment, that you read and stress and collect data and interview and write because it is a manifestation of what you, one single person, can do.

Azza Cohen is a history major from Highland Park, Ill. She can be reached at accohen@princeton.edu.

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