Blacksburg student among award winners
Political, economic, and social conflicts between nations on the world stage fill our newsfeeds today and compromises make for even bigger headlines. Eighth-grader Thomas McKenna, of Lovettsville in Loudoun County, Virginia, dramatically portrayed one such event from history at the National History Day program held at the University of Maryland, College Park June 10-14. His solo performance on the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, establishing the Irish Free State and allowing Northern Ireland to remain with Great Britain won first place at the District contest in Alexandria in March, then took first place at the Virginia History Day contest at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond in April before winning the gold medal against stiff competition from ninety-four other middle school entries from around the world at the National contest. On why he chose his topic, Thomas said, “My family lineage is in Ireland and I’ve got a rabid interest in politics.”
More than a half-million students around the world entered the contest at the local level, with the top entries advancing to state contests. The top two entries in each category were invited to the National Contest. Competitors represented the fifty-seven affiliate members, including every state, Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and international schools in South Korea, South Asia, and China. More than 3,000 middle and high school students presented their work related to the 2018 theme, Conflict and Compromise in History. First-place entries in the junior and senior division’s five categories of documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, and website are given the title, “National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Scholar” and receive a $1,000 award sponsored by NEH.
In addition to the category medals, special awards are presented for topics ranging from African American History to World War I. Sponsored by organizations from around the country, they are presented to outstanding entries in any category. A Virginia NHD-veteran student, Mia Lazar, brought home the Women’s History Award, presented by the National Women’s History Museum. Lazar, a tenth-grader at Blacksburg High School, produced a ten-minute documentary entitled, “When Compromise is Unacceptable: Coeducation at the University of Virginia,” detailing the legal and social battle to allow women to enroll at UVA, which finally occurred in 1970. At the state contest in April, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture presented Lazar with the Bobby Chandler High School Award for the best Senior Division project focused on Virginia history along with a $500 cash prize.
Two other projects from Virginia received recognition. Jane Carskaddan, a tenth-grader from Great Falls, VA, and a Langley High School student, received the Virginia Outstanding Senior Entry Award for her research paper, “444 Days in the Dark: The Iran Hostage Crisis.” Her paper advanced to the final round of judging and was among the top ten of ninety-seven Senior paper entries. Four other Fairfax County Public Schools students received the Virginia Outstanding Junior Entry Award. Haycock Elementary’ s sixth-graders, Hollis Freeman, Tyler Fontenot, Conor Patton, and Victor Van Vranken, all from Falls Church, VA, earned the award for their project, “The Heaviest Compromise Dropped on a Conflict,” about Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs to end World War II. The group also scored a place in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s NHD Showcase.
Founded in 1974, the National History Day Contest was created to inspire students to conduct original historical research. Since its creation, the contest has grown into an international competition with more than half-a-million participants and thousands of dollars in scholarship awards and prizes annually. According to an independent study in 2011, students who participate in the National History Day Contest are better prepared for college, careers, and citizenship. They also outperform their peers in areas including communication, planning, research, and perseverance.
Many of the fifty-nine Virginia students who competed at the National Contest have already turned their attention to next year’s theme: Triumph and Tragedy in History. They will have until next February and March to put their final touches on new exhibits, documentaries, papers, performances, or websites – before the 2019 competition season starts anew.
The Virginia Museum of History & Culture is owned and operated by the Virginia Historical Society — a private, non-profit organization established in 1831. The historical society is the oldest cultural organization in Virginia, and one of the oldest and most distinguished history organizations in the nation. For use in its state history museum and its renowned research library, the historical society cares for a collection of nearly nine million items representing the ever-evolving story of Virginia. The Virginia Museum of History & Culture is located at 428 North Boulevard in Richmond’s Museum District. Hours are Monday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. for the galleries and museum shop, Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. for the research library. For more information call (804) 358-4901, visit VirginiaHistory.org, or connect with the Virginia Museum of History & Culture on Facebook and Twitter.