INDEPENDENCE — Two Central High School graduates are kicking off their summer vacation at the University of Maryland in a National History Day Competition, which runs June 10 through June 14.
Victor Ochoa and Ilias Lawson earned first and second place, respectively, in regional and state competitions for essays they wrote as part of Frank White’s Oregon history class at CHS.
Students in the class spent the entire term researching and refining their projects.
White developed the class within the National History Day guidelines, and taught his students basic historiography and research skills, he said.
Established in 1974, NHD is a Maryland-based nonprofit educational organization for middle school and high school students around the world.
While the pair will be competing for awards, which include full and partial scholarships, they’re focused on sharing what they have learned so far and continuing their research.
“This class has offered so many opportunities,” Lawson said.
White taught two sections with 35 students in each, though 126 tried to sign up, he said.
He previously taught in Montana and was startled when he learned there was not a high-school level Oregon history class.
“We kind of invented this class,” White said. “Many other states require a state history class for graduation. Oregon currently does not.”
After proposing the class a few times, White was finally approved this year, he said.
“One of the things I’m proud of, too, is you see how well (Ochoa and Lawson) work together,” White said. “They share resources and they encourage each other.”
“We’re supposed to be competitors, but we helped each other out preparing for the national event,” Lawson added.
Lawson wrote about John McLoughlin in an essay titled, “The Fur Trade and The Father of Oregon: The Road to Statehood.”
“Everyone looks at historical figures through one lens,” Lawson said. “We see them as super heroic figures. I wanted to look at John McLoughlin in a different light. Looking at him through his family, his children’s writing and views about him, that’s what led me to discover who his first wife was.”
The historians at the McLoughlin museum did not know her name until Lawson discovered it — Christiana Youel, he said.
“They’re super excited,” Lawson said. “They’re helping me publish stuff in the museum. The historians at the McLoughlin House invited me to be their special guest of honor to present my thesis to the public on Oct. 20. I think it is going to be really cool watching others learn about it.”
In his essay, “Latino Immigration to The City of Independence,” Ochoa followed his family’s migration to Independence, Ore., starting with his great-grandfather on his mother’s side.
“He came to Independence mainly for work,” Ochoa said. “It was in the middle of the Great Depression and I found out that he worked at the Blue Heron Farm and actually owned half a stake in it.”
Ochoa’s work will be featured in the Independence and Polk County Heritage Museums.
“It was an inspiration to write the essay,” Ochoa said. “I didn’t want to be political at all. I just wanted to be proud of my ancestry, of my father and my grandfather, to see how far they’ve come. To where they put me into a school like this and it really brings a lot of pride. I always want to wear that badge of pride for my father, my grandfather. I can’t say how amazing it is to represent my family and this community.”
Ochoa and Lawson are competing against 95 other students in their category.
In all, 3,085 students are competing across five categories and two divisions, said Gary Pettit, NHD director of communications. Fifty of those students are from Oregon.
“I’m looking forward to nationals because we’re going to be with other countries as well,” Lawson said.
He and Ochoa are looking forward to meeting the other students and learning about their projects.
There is a pin trading event for participants, and Ochoa has his fanny pack ready to collect the mementos.
“Each state brings customized pins to trade with the other states, and the students spend hours trying to collect one from every affiliate,” Pettit said. “NHD China and NHD Korea always are in high demand because they bring a rather smaller contingent of students and therefore their pins are harder to get.”
Lawson said he and Ochoa want to share with people what Oregon is — “a large mixture of a lot of different people from lots of different places.”
“We are proud to represent this community and this county and this state (at) nationals,” Ochoa said. “We will represent with class and a lot of pride from where we are coming from. We hope to bring some more attention to Oregon and our community and our county. There is so much that a lot of people don’t know about.”