Westtown School Junior Graham Mortensen Wins National History Day Competition

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Westtown School junior Graham Mortensen won second place in the regional competition for National History day with his documentary film, "Separate but Equal: Reaction to Education Reform in Little Rock." Graham will go on to represent Westtown in the state competition on May 4 and 5 in Mechanicsburg.

Westtown School's Graham Mortensen

I discovered there was another type of revolution I wasn’t considering. This kind didn't include guns and swords but instead was a social revolution. There was one that spoke to me more than any other: the story of the Little Rock Nine.

Graham Mortensen, a junior at Westtown School, a pre-K – 12 college prep school in West Chester, PA, won second place in the Individual Documentary category at regional competitions for National History Day 2012 which took place on March 3. Graham will go on to the Pennsylvania National History Day Competition May 4-5 in Mechanicsburg, PA.

Graham, who is from Lancaster, has long been fascinated with history. "I discovered a real passion for the stories and events I was learning about. It blazed like a fire in me and at the age of 13 I began to actively learn as much about history as I could. Now history classes are my favorites, and I love to discuss history with anyone who will listen. I definitely plan to major in history at college."

His win is evidence of Westtown’s curricular emphasis on the kinds of proficiencies and competencies graduates will need for the future: critical thinking, problem-solving, research and analysis, oral and written communication, presentation skills, leadership and self-confidence, and global citizenship.

This years’ National History Day theme was “Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History.” Graham won for his film entitled “Separate but Equal: Reaction to Education Reform in Little Rock.” His documentary examines the role played by the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs Board of Ed in eliminating racial segregation in American schools. He examines the “reaction” in Little Rock, Arkansas to the Brown decision, and the impact subsequent reforms had on educational access in the United States, specifically as it related to the 14th amendment to the Constitution, with its guarantee of “full and equal benefit of all laws” to all citizens.

Graham said he considered a number of different violent uprisings for his topic. "But then I discovered there was another type of revolution I wasn’t considering. This kind didn't include guns and swords but instead was a social revolution. Looking at these kinds of revolutions, I discovered there was one that spoke to me more than any other: the story of the Little Rock Nine."

Each year, more than half a million students participate in National History Day. They choose historical topics related to the NHD-sponsored theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research that analyzes and interprets historical findings about their topics’ historical significance. Students can present their research in one of 5 formats: original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries. Their work is then entered into competition at the regional and state levels, where it is evaluated by professional historians and educators. The program culminates in June with the National Contest at the University of Maryland.

Graham is the first Westtown student to take part in the NHD competition, and his participation paves the way for other students to enter in the future. As a senior, Graham hopes to create a National History Day Club to help younger students create their own entries for the 2013 competition.

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