Milford wins state history contest

MILFORD – Milford High School students chose gay rights activist Harvey Milk; the 20th century’s most successful entertainment mogul, Walt Disney; and Irena Sendler, a woman who risked her life to save children during the Holocaust, as subjects for history projects that won their team a state championship in March.

The seven students, all girls, will now go on to the national competition at the University of Maryland in June.

The contest is sponsored by an organization called National History Day, and this year’s theme is Leadership and Legacy in History..

At the state competition at Plymouth State College, Rachael Nelson took a first prize for her individual performance on Disney.

Nelson, a sophomore, gave a 10-minute presentation, acting as if she were a Disney company employee going over the events of Walt Disney’s life for a movie, focusing on his leadership qualities and his development of animation techniques for family entertainment.

“He had a personal drive to succeed and was never content with ‘good enough,’ and always looked for new technological advances,” Rachael said. “He never let losing keep him down.”

Four students – Jessica Leach, Morgan Stephens, Kayla Worrall and Sarah Watton – produced an exhibit on Irena Sendler, a social worker who rescued children from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

The group exhibit – six feet tall and 40 inches wide – had to tell the story only using 500 of the four girls’ own words, so most of what is on the board are quotes and pictures.

“My group and I started research in early November,” said Watton in an email. They dedicated at least three hours a week to the project up until the competition in late March.

“Even though this project was time consuming,” Watton said, “every member of my group was passionate about the topic and truly inspired by Irena Sendler.”

Jessica Leach said Sendler has become her hero and role model and inspired her to pursue a career in human rights.

“I learned that her legacy not only lies in the lives of the 2,500 people she saved, but also lies within her story,” which shows that “ordinary people can stand up to authority and make a difference in people’s lives.”

In her research paper called “Giving Them Hope: How Harvey Milk Brought the Gay Rights Movement out of the Closet,” Hannah Waris wrote about the “conservative businessmen turned liberal activist” in San Francisco who was murdered by a political rival in 1977.

Elizabeth Curless won first prize for her research paper on Shay’s Rebellion. a post-Revolutionary War uprising of Massachusetts farmers against perceived injustices.

The seven girls went to Plymouth State for the state competition where there were 250 students representing roughly 20 schools throughout New Hampshire. Projects that finish first or second were invited to compete at the national competition June 15-18 against entries from all over the country and many U.S. territories, with roughly 120 entries in each category.

National History Day is a year-long education program that encourages students to produce dramatic performances, imaginative exhibits, multimedia documentaries and research papers based on research related to an annual theme.