Three senior students awarded 2024 Taliesin Prize

Magnolia blossoms outside Cabot House in Radcliffe Quad at Harvard University.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

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Three graduating seniors — Yaoquan Chen, Rivers Sheehan, and Erik Zou — have been awarded the 2024 Taliesin Prize for Distinction in the Art of Learning.

The Taliesin Prize, which is awarded to three graduating seniors annually, is named for the sixth-century poet associated with enlightenment and inspiration, and was established by the Division of Arts & Humanities in 2020. 

Yaoquan Chen ’24

Chen did a joint concentration in women, gender, and sexuality and human developmental and regenerative biology. 

“Before arriving at Harvard, my understandings of queerness, medicine, and science came entirely from my interactions with the queer community in San Francisco and an internship in a gender affirming surgery clinic,” Chen said. “It was through classes at Harvard in which I came to supplement those experiences in a theoretical and academic sense … As my time at Harvard progressed, it became increasingly evident that my education in the sciences is intrinsically tied to my work in queer studies.”

Rivers Sheehan ’23

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Sheehan, a December graduate, did a joint concentration in art, film, and visual studies and history of science.

“I began to seek overlaps between making and knowing — a junior paper on a 12th century woman’s gynecology recipes, paintings made using medieval egg tempera methods, courses on information and book history, a foray into printmaking, a history of photography as diagnostic technology,” Sheehan said. “… The opportunity to follow my curiosity the past four years helped me see how the pursuit and production of knowledge is truly a creative act which is constantly arising from surprising sources. In turn, my creative practice gained a constantly surprising set of inspirations too.”

 Zou did a joint concentration in history of art and architecture and statistics, with a secondary concentration in economics.

Erik Zou ’24

“Pricing theory, statistical modeling of sports data, and close visual analysis of medieval manuscripts, it turns out, have a lot in common,” Zou said. “During my coursework, I have come to see these methods as earnest attempts to understand the vastness of human experience: attempts that do not convey an unequivocal, objective truth but instead serve as portals rich with interpretation and meaning.”

Professors from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences nominate students, and winners are selected by a faculty Prize Committee, which examines the transcripts of nominated students for evidence of intrinsic curiosity, and an indication that the student “deliberately charted a path through the curriculum that reflects courage, creativity, and exploration.” The goal is to honor academic achievement in a holistic way, outside conventional standards like GPA or a thesis.