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Nicholas Raffel '18
English major / Philosophy minor
Summa Cum Laude

Described as a model of academic achievement and personal growth, Nicholas Raffel is a first-generation college student who grew up in what he describes as a sheltered religious community that limited his exposure to people of diverse religious backgrounds and also strongly discouraged education beyond high school. Nevertheless, Nicholas pursued higher education, first earning an Associates degree in graphic design at Suffolk Community College,  then Stony Brook, where he was accepted into the English Honors Program.

Nicholas recently applied for a Fulbright fellowship in Buddhist studies at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). His honors thesis, “‘The Giant of Nothingness’: Absence, Reverence, Wonder, and the Poetry of Wallace Stevens” was completed under the guidance of Justin Omar Johnson, assistant professor in English, and Robert Kaplan, senior lecturer and undergraduate program director in Writing.

According to Ben Robinson, associate professor of English and director of the English Honors Program, Nicholas is both an exemplary scholar and a community-building member of the department. Learn more about Nicholas’s self-discovery and academic success at Stony Brook.


On his major:
I initially decidedto study literature for the same reason most students do: I love to read. However, after further study, I came to realize that my reading so much while growing up was a way of taking a perspective on the world outside of my own. I recognized that philosophy would help me to flesh out more fully my understanding of the perspectives of others.

On his favorite class:
Professor Peter Manning taught a course that I absolutely loved: EGL 392 Topics in Literary and Cultural Studies in Literature Pre-1800, a course that focused on the historical development of the epic poem as a form. While reading such classic epics as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid , we considered how those works functioned as means of shaping the national and religious identities of their respective societies. The course helped me realize the extent to which our identities are shaped by the stories we tell about ourselves.

Interests and accomplishments:
My interests include reading and writing poetry; listening to and playing music; philosophizing about seemingly inconsequential stuff; entomology, mycology, and just biology and ecology in general; drawing/illustration. 

I’m currently serving as assistant director at the SBU Writing Center and I’m also part of the English Honors program, which is a great little community. I served on the English Honors Advisory Board for two semesters.  

Awards & Accolades:
SBU Academic Achievement Award;  Summa Cum Laude

Greatest achievement:
I consider it an achievement just to really connect with someone over something of shared interest, to have a discussion with a professor about something we both care about, or to talk with another student about the ways in which what we’re both working on are related. I’m more into process than product, I guess.

Post graduation plans:
I’ll be serving as a research assistant for a professor in the Department of Philosophy and taking a few graduate courses in English and philosophy in the spring. After that, I’m hoping to start a PhD in philosophy.

Career aspirations: 
My hope is to one day teach at the university level and to continue doing research in the fields of literature and philosophy. The world is only going to get more interconnected and complex, and I genuinely believe that literature and philosophy can generate the kind of imaginative and empathetic thinking necessitated by such a process.

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