Dave Sebastian completed my WR 150 course, “The Rhetoric of Freedom,” in the spring of 2016 when he was a first-year student in the School of Communications. At the time, Dave was also a reporter for Boston University’s Daily Free Press, where he evidently became comfortable as writer and curious as a researcher. A hallmark of Dave’s work was his intellectual independence: for both of his research papers in Writing 150, he selected subjects that made sense within the thematic parameters of the course but that also required extensive research and reading beyond our syllabus.
In my comments on Dave’s first draft of the essay, I wrote, “This is a strong and promising draft! There is so much to admire here. From the intellectual independence you displayed in locating this worthwhile subject to your careful scholarship in well-chosen primary and secondary sources, this work is impressive.” I did, however, urge Dave to provide greater help to readers unfamiliar with his subject, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek (Mayling Soong.) “You need,” I wrote, “to explain more about her rise to prominence and her education and life.” Dave acted on this advice—and the result was a final paper that was far more accessible to an educated but general audience. In the introduction to his final portfolio, Dave explained how much he learned from making the essay accessible to unknown readers—and how motivated he was to research his subject. “Through multiple drafts,” Dave wrote, “I have learned how to introduce Madame Chiang, a complex figure, to unknowledgeable readers by writing a potent problem statement that includes a short biography of Madame Chiang. This skill of setting common ground with readers will be beneficial in my endeavors as a journalist, as I would need to be able to report on complex matters in an understandable language. Most notably, my passion for my essay subject is evident through my research: I spent nights at the library delving into books from the 1940s, analyzing the intricate yet stylistic rhetoric of Madame Chiang, who published numerous articles in the American media.” A product of intellectual curiosity and careful library scholarship, Dave’s essay models what students are capable of achieving when they are both independent intellectually and responsive to feedback on a draft.
— THOMAS UNDERWOOD
WR 150: The Rhetoric of Freedom in America