The cover of the Student Documentary Showase, part of the National History Day festivities at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The cover of the Student Documentary Showase, part of the National History Day festivities at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Credit: Screengrab / National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Twelve Connecticut students received 2022 National History Day awards at a virtual award ceremony this month.

Of the 12 students, 11 finished in the top 10 in their category while eight received special awards. Connecticut sent a total of 61 students to the national contest where more than 3,000 middle and high school students from the United States and overseas competed for the awards. 

The  2022 theme was “Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures and Consequences,” with students submitting papers, exhibits, documentaries, websites and staged performances.

The public will have the opportunity to meet some of the 61 students who attended the National History Day competition at a virtual event scheduled for June 30 at noon. John Smith-Horn, a teacher from the Timothy Edwards Middle School in South Windsor and Connecticut’s nominee for the Patriciate Behring Teacher of the Year, will be the featured speaker.

Joseph Cook, a 17-year-old student who attends Norwich Free Academy, was among the group of students who went to the national competition, and whose work is being displayed online in a Smithsonian Museum of American History showcase. 

Cook transformed a topic he was interested in, Walt Disney’s visit to South America as part of a goodwill tour in 1941,  into a presentation titled “Duck Diplomacy: How Walt Disney Saved FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy.”

The online, cooperative exhibit, sponsored by the Smithsonian Learning Lab and the Smithsonian Museum of American History,  features 53 exhibits designed by middle and high school students who competed in the 2022 NHD National Contest. This year’s showcase is available for view through June 27 at the contest’s website

The project won Cook second place in the Senior Individual Exhibit category at Connecticut History Day in April. When Cook heard about the theme of the 2022 National History Day – “Debate & Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences” – he said he knew where he would focus. 

“I said ‘this is perfect,’” Cook said. “And that’s when I ended up going with.” 

“Duck Diplomacy” examined the effects of Walt Disney’s “Goodwill Tour” of South America, a diplomatic trip he made for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, according to a description of the presentation. The tour helped further Roosevelt’s policy, preventing further Nazi incursion and helping the U.S. gain a foothold in South America, according to Cook’s research. 

Cook pored through books and a few websites to do his research. He said the benefit of the tour was building relationships between the U.S. and the people of South America. 

“I think it showed that we actually had an interest in their culture, and that we’re not just going there to leech off their resources,” Cook said. 

Cook’s teacher, Lorraine Dooley, said Cook spent hours researching his topic, and analyzed the connections to the theme of debate and diplomacy.  

“The History Day experience truly prepares students for college as they become critical thinkers and learn to communicate their ideas effectively,” Dooley said. “I am so proud of Joe Cook and his “Duck Diplomacy” is truly an outstanding project because he chose a topic that he was interested in and gained knowledge and skills that will last a lifetime.”

Award Winners

2nd place: Senior Individual Website

 Lucia Wang: Staples High School (Westport)

“Minamata’s Fight for Justice: How Japan’s Failed Debate and Response Sparked Local and Global Change” 

4th place Senior Group Performance and Outstanding Connecticut Entry (Senior Division) 

Clarissa Halpyn and John Margelony: Rockville High School (Vernon) and Arts at the Capitol Theater Magnet School (Willimantic)

“The Congress for Cultural Freedom: The CIA’s Cloak and Paintbrush Diplomacy” 

5th Place, Senior Individual Performance

Elizabeth Steeves: Trumbull High School (Trumbull)

“Otto von Bismark: Germany’s Creator and Its Killer”

6th place Junior Group Exhibit  and Outstanding Connecticut Entry (Junior Division)

Anna Kvashchuk, Daniel Guo, Marianne Joy Montenegro, Olivia Papadopoulos: Nathan Hale Middle School (Norwalk)

The Cuban Missile Crisis: The Diplomatic Dilemma”

8th place, Senior Group Performance

Kathia Diaz and Sophia Carrier: Enfield High School (Enfield)

The Gold Standard’s Control over the Working Class: William Jennings Bryan’s Crusade to End Economic Disparity in America.

9th Place, Senior Individual Exhibit

Dagny Dahl: Staples High School (Westport)

“Angry Days, 1939-1941: Should the United States Enter World War II?”