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At the end of the 1990s, English Department faculty realized that the Senior Individualized Project, often the culminating achievement of a student's career, frequently turned out to be anti-climactic: it was turned in and graded, and then never heard of again.  Inspired by the Diebold Symposium in Biology and the Hightower Symposium in Soc/Anthro/ HDSR, the first Hilberry Symposium was launched in 2000, as a means to publicize and honor student work on the SIP. Named for Dr. Conrad Hilberry, Professor of English and founder of the creative writing program at "K," it was conceived to replicate a professional conference in our discipline, where scholars and writers share their work and acknowledge each other's achievements.

In the second year of the symposium, a tradition was begun of inviting an English Department alumnus/a to give the keynote address. Department faculty propose names of graduates who have done interesting things with their English background, who might have an important message for current seniors, and who will be good speakers.

From the outset, the Hilberry was also an important collective experience for the graduating class, a ritual of remembrance and celebration. With the entire English Department faculty and invited family and friends in attendance, English majors can see themselves as part of a community that has evolved over time, with the love of language as its enduring center.