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