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In high school, writing a research paper is synonymous with baking your own mini-textbook. You crack open a few statistics, sprinkle in a few quotes, and add a pinch of SAT vocabulary. Mix well until blended, and voila—a hot, piping thesis (though it may taste a bit dry)!
I used this same recipe for much of my educational career. I hated researching history just as much as any academically jaded teenager would: “When am I going to need this information?” I would wail piteously, slamming my head against my history textbook. “No one is ever going to ask me about the circumstances of the inauguration of the seventeenth president!”
And sure enough—no one ever did. But the first year I entered the National History Day research competition, the unimaginable happened: history became interesting to me. It did not matter whether or not someone would ask about it; what mattered was fulfilling my own curiosity. It became clear that studying the past was a science not only of the end result, but also of context and change—the present and the future.
I felt as if I had discovered some long-buried secret to enjoying work. As long as I was excited to look, I could always find the story in history! In my fourth NHD project, I realized that the Cuban Missile Crisis was more a desperate maintenance of the country’s reputation than actual negotiation. In my fifth, I saw that there could be thousands of potential environmental pollution sites in America like the one at Love Canal due to the secrecy of government policy and control. Each year, I recognized that history was not just a massive amalgamation of events—but a living universe, expanding with each minute.
By my sixth project, I had touched the battlefield, the presidency, the environment, and the labor force—all topics in which I had at least a visceral interest. As a junior, however, I chose to tackle a subject I had long avoided: the economy. It was a topic I had circumvented the same way I shunned Brussels sprouts and liver: I’d never actually experienced it firsthand, but it seemed like a bad idea. That January, however, I found myself in a quiet room at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, elbows-deep in Box 27 of “Letters to the President, October 1933.” And that January, I found myself completely and utterly invested in its implications.
History is both a science and an art; one must combine careful analysis of evidence with compelling storytelling. For six years, each NHD competition brought such skills to my academic palate. But rather than an improvement in vocabulary or writing ability, my sixth and final project unearthed a passion that I had never found in myself before. The last sentence of my research paper left me once again with more questions than I had started with, but this time, I felt compelled to answer them on my own: How can we change? How should we change? Is there an answer?
The emphasis that the ILR places on human nature in the workplace provides the ideal environment for me to answer those questions. I believe that emphasis and my determination to mold the working world into one that accepts and aids the poor and needy can work hand in hand and help me carve new possibilities for the future. Since I one day plan to pursue a legal career, building a stringent safeguard against the potential abuses and excesses in the financial market, I believe that ILR’s stress on understanding how organizations work and fit into the economy is a perfect fit for me.
By surrounding myself with those who adhere to the ILR philosophy just as strongly as I do, I am ready to challenge myself to become a greater person who can help those in need.
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