[from left to right: Kagan ’81, Sotomayor ’76, Alito ’72, and Obama ’85]
Do you plan on becoming a Supreme Court justice? Do you plan on becoming famous?
If so, do yourself a favor: Write your thesis on the most mundane, non-controversial topic possible.
Specifically, don’t write about:
- Scary foreign lands (i.e. Puerto Rico)
- Last year, Justice Sonia Sotomayor ’76 got a lot of flack for some of the views she espoused in her thesis, La Historia Ciclica de Puerto Rico. The Impact of the Life of Luis Munoz Marin on the Political and Economic History of Puerto Rico, 1930-1975, which came in at a whopping 178 pages.
- And if you think you’re out of the woods after getting your final thesis grade, think twice. The National Journal had another professor regrade Sotomayor’s thesis 33 years later! The professor’s conclusion?: “the thesis would probably receive an A/A minus or an A minus.”
- Scary topics Americans are scared of (i.e. socialism)
- As we mentioned last week, Solicitor General (and leading Supreme Court nominee contender) Elena Kagan ’81 is also getting criticized for her senior thesis, To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933. The Weekly Standard stated last summer, “Her political sympathies (at the time) seem quite clear — and radical.” Uh oh!
- No word yet whether anyone will regrade Kagan’s thesis, but then again, she hasn’t been nominated yet.
- Minority groups (i.e. Princeton-educated blacks)
- And don’t you remember the media storm over the thesis First Lady Michelle Obama ’85 wrote? (Full text here.) Her thesis, Princeton Educated Blacks and the Black Community, compared black Princetonians’ identification with the black community while at Princeton and afterwards as alumni.
- While Obama’s thesis wasn’t regraded, some pundits criticized her writing anyway. Slate.com’s Christopher Hitchens wrote, “To describe it as hard to read would be a mistake; the thesis cannot be ‘read’ at all, in the strict sense of the verb. This is because it wasn’t written in any known language.” Ouch.
Seriously, after all the flack Obama ’85, Sotomayor ’76, and now Kagan ’81 have received for their theses, it just doesn’t seem worth the trouble! So I implore you future-famous Princetonians: Write about really boring stuff.
Just look at the nomination (and confirmation) of Justice Samuel Alito ’72. His thesis, An Introduction to the Italian Constitutional Court, was apparently sufficiently boring enough to preclude any media circus in 2005. Of course, there was that whole CAP (Concerned Alumni of Princeton) thing. So if you want to become a Supreme Court justice, try not to join any racist/sexist organizations, too.
Click here for Part 2.
(image source: princeton.edu; nytimes.com; dailyprincetonian.com)