That History Day Guy

May 13, 2007

Cooperstown Cometh

Filed under: state contest,Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 3:20 am

As I sat under the hot lights at Cooperstown High School auditorium during the New York State History Day competition last month, I was taken with the range of emotions. There were schools that had been there for years that ignited with cheers as their classmates were awarded their medals. There were stoic faces from first time participants who went through the evening unannounced. And there were more than a few third place entrants who were noticeably disappointed in their placing.

That’s the toughest thing about NHD: winners and losers. Of course, in my mind no one leaves a loser. I thought about the girls from the Southern Tier who came for the first time. I remember hearing their screeches of joy at the regional competition when their win and qualification for the state contest was announced, and I know how thrilled they were just to be at the state competition. There were the families who left Friday afternoon to rush to other events for their children on Saturday, but thanked us for their experience. There were teachers who hung out all day with large numbers of students, and then piled on big yellow “cheese wagons” to make a two-hour ride home while talking about ideas for next year. There were throngs of smiling young people who left with new NYSHD shirts, happy and excited for having been able to make it this far.

In History Day we judge by consensus. Consensus means coming to a group decision about an outcome. It may not be the exact decision everyone in the group would make individually, but it is one everyone can live with. I like to say everyone walks away from the table with something they can live with.

I always tell this to History Day kids. Whether they win or lose, they will take away more than just something they can live with. They will be better students, researchers, readers and in a broad sense, and better thinkers. Even just starting the critical thinking process opens the gates for many. Many will travel, in real time or virtually, to places and meet people they never imagined. They will have appreciation for the human condition in a way they had not considered before. They get all of this with or without a medal.

So, if you’re still a bit forlorn about your History Day journey, I encourage you not to give it up. You are so much more than placing in a contest. You have taken away all these things to make you a better person. That’s a heck of a thing to be able to walk away from the table with!

Have a great month of history!

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