I've participated in National History Day for two years now. In 8th grade, my social studies teacher encouraged us to create a project for NHD. I decided to give it a try. A couple of my friends and I chose to create an exhibit together. The teacher helped us choose a topic and gave us some tips on where to start our research. We finally decided that our topic would be the Cuban Missile Crisis. We did extensive research on this event and I really learned a lot, not only about the topic but about the techniques that are used to interpret history and create an argument. Processes like this really helped me in my first year of high school, as well as creating my second project: an individual paper. I was lucky enough to have been selected to compete at the national competition for both years and have many great experiences.
One of the first experiences I had was at the opening ceremony. At the 2019 ceremony, we were fortunate to hear a civil rights activist speak. The activist talked about her life in the South and her involvement in Freedom Summer. It was really interesting to hear a personal account of the events that occurred, as well as her unique perspective on the Civil Rights Movement. Overall, National History Day has provided me, as well as many other students, a unique opportunity to meet important figures and to listen to their ideas.
Another fun experience that had at National History Day was the pin exchange. Milling around, in search of pins from other states gives you the chance to talk to participants from all over the country. It also teaches one the great art of bargaining! This year I came home with over 40 pins from other states!
The interviews with judges are also, believe it or not, quite enjoyable. Over the last couple of years, I have interviewed with judges at the regional, state, and national competitions. The judges are really friendly and they are truly interested in our projects. I liked both the seminar format for papers as well as the one-on-one interviews for exhibits (and papers at Nationals).
The capstone experience is, of course, the awards ceremony. The "Parade of States" is exhilarating. We met early in the morning, armed with our Connecticut banners and flags and joined all of the other states (and international teams to boot!) as we marches around the stadium. Seeing all of those different states and participants in one place really made me realize how fortunate I was to be there. It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. This year, at Nationals, my paper won second prize, another Connecticut paper won first prize, and several other Connecticut projects received prizes as well. This rare occurrence in the paper category proved how stiff the competition was this year in Connecticut but also shows how devoted and amazing our teachers are to helping us and helping understand the feedback from CHD staff and judges. Their time, effort, and ideas inspired us!
From 2014-2017, I was a participant of the Connecticut History Day contest in the individual performance category. The first time I was told about History Day, I was driven by the long term research and composition of the projects. I knew that I was ready to take on a new challenge.
The best part of History Day was always choosing a topic. In school, we only ever learned a portion of history from different time periods: we get a basic understanding of important historical figures and how they create a lasting impact. I enjoyed exploring a wide variety of topics within a centralized theme and focusing on aspects of history beyond the ones in our textbooks.
Another great aspect of History Day was creating your project's thesis. My project: "Exploring the Power of Dance: Martha Graham" for the 2016 theme of Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange was built off of a thesis focusing on Martha Graham's ability to revolutionize dance through the expansion of boundaries. Through countless textbooks, New York City dance studio tours, and exposure to different types of empowering, modern dance techniques, I was able to derive this thesis and bring her story back to life-- a feeling so satisfying that I wanted to learn more about her.
Following my first place win at the Hartford Regional Contest that year, I did just that. I utilized the easy accessibility to the libraries at ECSU and UConn, as well at the Library of Congress resources, to find more articles and information on Graham's significance. Having the opportunity to obtain copies of Graham's performances allowed me to get creative with the facts, connect myself to my audience, portray a beautiful art form, while also analyzing all of the information in a way that can be understood today. This is one of the greatest things I learned from being a participant of CHD. There is truly something satisfying in bringing a historical figure to life and recreating their story.
The extensive research and writing brought be all the way to Nationals. Although I did not place, the one thing I did win was a new experience and a new group of friends-- one thing that people forget to mention in their overall experience of History Day. I met so many people and made so many friends during my History Day journey. The people from all over the state, all over the country, and all over the world, come together for one shared interest-- history, along with a sense of creativity.
History Day is something still very near and dear to my heart. It has been a part of my life for years now. Which is why I took on the decision to be a judge for the contest. I missed all of the hype of the contest from when I was a participant that I knew I still wanted to be a part of all the excitement and use my experiences and expertise to help students foster their educational experience.
It's wonderful to be able to sit back and listen to the students as they present their projects. I learned about so many different topics that I probably never would've known about if it wasn't for History Day.
Although I love seeing all my medals lined up along my wall from all the regional, state, and national contests that I participated in, the best thing for me was finishing all my papers: printing four copies of my annotated bibliography and process paper and feeling the warmth of the endless pages as the ink dried and I stapled them together in the top left corner; seeing the finalized word count; seeing my self-composed title across the top of my papers and watching my timer reach ten minutes with the completion of the last line of my monologue; filing the trunk of my parents' car with props that set the scene of my performance; taking trips to different colleges in the area and carrying piles of textbooks from the library to my car; finding costumes for my performance and suddenly transforming into a person of such grandeur and inspiration. It is genuinely inspiring.
I think it is important to get involved in History Day because it fosters an environment of learning well beyond what is taught in the classroom. The skills that students will obtain from participating (whether they place in the top three or not) are life changing. You use the skills from History Day in everything that you do past high school. You become more academically and socially advanced. You learn to be more confident. You learn to accept change as a way to improve. You learn to love history.
Today, when people see History Day under my achievements on my resume, I am always so excited to tell them about it!
- Guada Mary Benoit
Connecticut History Day Participant 2014-2017
Connecticut History Day Judge