Local history students hit a milestone



STUDENTS
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Recent eighth graders Matthew Young and David McCutcheon stand with their first place medals received at this year’s National History Competition. (Lauren Tiner) (click for larger version)
July 06, 2011
Recently graduated eighth graders Matthew Young and David McCutcheon won the U.S. Constitution Award at the annual National History Competition this June, and were the first New Hampshire representatives to receive national recognition in the past eight years.

Young and McCutcheon's project, titled "Debate over Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech," a stem off of this year's national theme, "Debate and Diplomacy in History," landed them recognition out of hundreds of other student projects submitted around the country.

This year's national competition was held at the University of Maryland College in the Washington, D.C. area from June 12-16. Out of 2,000 participants, only about 100 students took home cash prizes, including both Gilford boys, who plan to split their $1,000 prize. More than 300 historians and professionals evaluated student work this year, and also recognized Gilford Middle School students at the state competition during the school year.

Both Young and McCutcheon have worked diligently on their original project since November - a carefully constructed a documentary involving the freedom of the press and freedom of speech, coming to understand the pros and cons of both while looking into the history of the First Amendment, and when this amendment was perhaps abused.

"We had heard about the Wiki Leaks back in November, when we started the project, and looked at three different court cases in history for our project," said McCutcheon. "We have devoted just about every week or weekend to this project, and had a least a dozen sleepovers."

Both students first competed at the district level against their peers, at the state level at Plymouth State University this past spring, and then at the national level, with results which left the students pleasantly surprised, after coming in first at the state level in the documentary category.

In their documentary, the students gathered endless data in regards to their three court cases and chosen theme, and infused their video with their own reporting, photographs, and an introduction and conclusion of their topic.

"This was a competitive category, and we also had to worry about the production and visuals. Some of the students were glad they didn't do a documentary because of the quality of competition it brought in," said Young. "Visiting D.C. was a lot of fun, and we got to tour monuments and different museums. We also met other students and saw a lot of projects."

McCutcheon added that it was valuable to experience college campus life during the national event, since the students slept in dorms.

While they worked hard on their project, both students admitted they were surprised to win first place in the national Jr. documentary category, and realized their hard work was well worth it in the end.

"At the time, we were tired and ecstatic when our project was announced. We were on the top row and had to climb all the way down to the court," said McCutcheon. "We got to shake hands with the head of the National Archives, who sponsored this category. We beat out 100 nominees for this award, and were chosen out of all the categories in the junior division."

This was also the first year either student had decided to participate in the National History Day competition, encouraged by GMS history teacher Rob Meyers.

"We got a lot of advice from our peers who had gone before. We haven't decided if we will compete in the senior division next year, since it was a lot of work," said McCutcheon.

Young added that along the way, he has soaked up a good deal of information on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the U.S., and can view this sometimes controversial topic in a negative and positive light.

"It's fascinating how this amendment has changed so much throughout the history of the U.S. You see the good and the bad in the freedom of the press," said Young.

"It was a great experience. I enjoyed the competition and I'd recommend participating in it," added McCutcheon.

While McCutcheon plans to purchase a MacBook with his portion of the award, Young said he is still undecided on how he will spend, or save his well earned prize money.

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