Recently 3000 kids gathered in Washington DC for a competition called National History Day. They put together amazing projects that required yearlong (primary source) research which you don't see at the middle and high school level very often. The "back stories" that happen during this experience are fascinating. Although this is a secular competition, the skills of perseverance, truth seeking, and the search for moral heroes comes out of our Christian framework. I always tell my kids, "These kinds of projects have a life of their own!" Here are just a few of this year's stories:
1) Tierra Hudson, age 13, competed this year for the first time. She and her partner, Laura Winn, did a performance about Marian Anderson whose singing became a symbol and a force for change during the Civil Rights era. Tierra's ethnic background is black, Japanese and Hispanic. She and her mom wanted to meet the best friend of Tierra's grandfather during their visit to Washington DC. Tierra never met her grandfather who died a month before she was born. Her grandfather was stationed in Japan during WWII where he met and married his wife. His friend met Tierra and her mother at B Smith's restaurant to share memories and photos. The restaurant owner, B Smith, came over to meet Tierra and learn about her project. B Smith is a model, successful entrepreneur and product spokesperson. She took photographs with Tierra and offered this advice, "Keep working hard and following your dreams. Your dreams are going to take you places!" It was a powerful experience for Tierra.
2) Brigit Brown, age 12, (my daughter) did a documentary about The Mustang Debate. She wrote a letter to the governor of New Mexico about her project and interviewed several key figures at the BLM during her research. The director of the Bureau of Land Management at the Department of the Interior, Bob Abbey, met with Brigit while she was in DC to receive a copy of her work and congratulate her. He said, "The issue about wild horses has become very emotional and there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. We are really proud of you for the work you did to tell the whole story."
3) Grace Sartin, age 12, did her first History Day project this year and was happy to have made it to the national level. "It's an honor and I'm just glad to be here," she said smiling happily. Her sister, Emily, has participated in previous years. One year she did a project about a lady pirate from Ireland. Her project didn't win but an Irish group saw her performance and said her representation was more accurate than anything they had seen. Three weeks later she was surprised to receive an award in the mail. It was a medal from "The Order of the Bard."
There are a lot more stories out there. Stories in every family...
For me, the message is that too many modern kids, with their cellphones and easy access to everything, have forgotten how to work hard. But these NHD kids have poured their hearts into serious work. They are beginning to recognize that effort is deeply rewarding in itself. The outcome in in God's hands. (My husband likes to says, "Do your best. The results are none of your business.")
The dedication, perseverance and willingness to speak to important people in order to keep learning...well, these are qualities that shape character. Getting a medal or some other acknowledgement is not necessary if our kids are going in the right direction toward making the world a better place.