Passion for the past

June 5, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Liberty’s History Day competitors make it to nationals

Contributed Liberty High School students (from left) Sally Rim, Lauryn Hepp and Carlyn Schmidgall accept an award for their project about the Vietnam draft at the regional History Day competition.

Liberty High School students (from left) Sally Rim, Lauryn Hepp and Carlyn Schmidgall accept an award for their project about the Vietnam draft at the regional History Day competition.

Liberty High School student Lorrin Johnson is almost at a loss for words when asked to describe her love of history.

It’s not because she can’t find the words, it’s just that she has so many things to say about her favorite subject, it’s hard to whittle them down to a few coherent sentences.

“Don’t get me started,” she joked. “I’ve gone on rants about it before.”

She isn’t the only Liberty student with an affinity for history, and it certainly paid off for a few of them, as they took top spots in the state’s recent History Day competition. Seven Liberty participants scored high enough to move on to the national competition June 15-19 at the University of Maryland.

Johnson partnered with classmate Vincy Fok to create a display exhibit about the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The two explored the site’s role in World War II, its legacy and the environmental issues associated with it.

The site in southeastern Washington produced plutonium for the bomb that ultimately ended World War II, and as tensions heightened during the Cold War, the plant continued to produce the element.

The last reactor ceased operation in 1987, before efforts to clean up the site began. It is still very much in the news, as recently as March, when it was discovered that some of the site’s waste tanks could leak, and that’s one of the reasons Fok said she was attracted to the topic.

“It was great for us because we could understand firsthand the legacy of the site,” she said.

Fok and Johnson actually had an opportunity to visit Hanford as they worked on their project.

“It’s like living history,” Johnson said. “It’s something that’s still here, that we can actually go see, and a lot of people can’t do that with their projects.”

The team took second place at the state competition and will travel to nationals in June.

Liberty students Carlyn Schmidgall, Lauryn Hepp and Sally Rim also qualified for nationals with their group project about the Vietnam draft. The trio crafted a website that took second place at state.

Schmidgall said they decided on the topic because it involved a very polarized period in the nation’s history.

“It called upon citizens, it called upon their responsibility to serve their government, but people believed that they had a right to oppose that, so it was just an interesting conflict that occurred between the government and the people,” she said.

Liberty students Andrew Cooper and Dhamanpreet Kaur also qualified for nationals. Cooper did his project on the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, and Kaur explored the Indian caste system for hers. Cooper and Kaur both made websites.

The June trip across the country is a little tricky for the students, considering it coincides with Liberty finals. They’ll work it out with their individual teachers, though, they said.

None of the nationals qualifiers are seniors, and all expect to submit History Day projects again next year.

“There are so many things that we’ve done in the past that are so different from now, it’s astounding,” Fok said. “I mean, we would never create Hanford today, so it’s really interesting to explore history, see the mistakes that we’ve made and how we’ve learned from them.”

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