After taking first place in the state History Day competition at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., Chief Umtuch Middle School eighth grader Ellie Durgarian is headed to the national finals. Only the top two finishers in each category advance to the national finals. By placing first, Ellie will compete at the University of Maryland in College Park, just outside of Washington, D.C., June 9-13.

National History Day is a dynamic program that encourages students to become historians by developing research, analysis, presentation and social skills. Students select a topic related to an annual national theme and work individually or in groups to conduct extensive historical research using primary and secondary sources. This year’s theme is “Tragedy and Triumph Throughout History.” Based on this theme, students developed projects such as research papers, performances, documentaries, websites, and more.

Durgarian’s winning project was a website titled “The Glowing Dark History of the Hanford Nuclear Site.” Her thesis is that due to the pressures from both WWII and the Cold War, the proper handling and disposal of nuclear waste was not a priority. Consequently, the triumph of ending the war with nuclear power brought with it human and environmental tragedies thatstill impact Washington today.

“I find it exasperating that there isn’t more public outrage about what’s happened at Hanford,” Durgarian said. “By not properly cleaning up the site, the government is failing those who have suffered the worst consequences and public trust has been betrayed repeatedly. In order to have a healthy democracy, people must stay informed, and nothing is going to change unless the public becomes more educated and involved.”

“I am so incredibly proud of Ellie’s accomplishments,” said Chief Umtuch history teacher Beth Doughty. “Ellie is tremendously passionate and cares deeply about those affected by the situation at Hanford, and she is more than deserving of this recognition. I know she’s going to do an amazing job representing Chief Umtuch at the national competition in June.”

Durgarian said that she’s thrilled to be heading to the nation’s capital with her mom, grandparents, and Mrs. Doughty. Beyond the competition itself, she is looking forward to visiting important cultural and historical sites like Mt. Vernon, the African American  Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, and Washington Monument.

“I feel so lucky to have Mrs. Doughty and Mr. Nesbit as teachers,” Durgarian said. They’re both amazing and make history and literature come alive. My project wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if it wasn’t for both of them.”

In addition to Ellie Durgarian’s first place finish, several other students either placed or were the recipients of special awards at this year’s state History Day competition:

  • Pleasant Valley Middle School eighth grader Reagan Lund placed fourth in the state in the Individual Website category for his “Battleships at Pearl Harbor: From Tragedy to Triumph” project. Reagan also won the National Maritime Historical Society Award for this project.
  • Pleasant Valley Middle School eighth grader Rachael Wyman received the State Archivist’s Award for her project, “The Centralia Massacre.”
  • Pleasant Valley Middle School eighth graders Hunter Dang and Anthony Huynh were the recipients of the Chinese or Chinese American History Award for their project, “Vietnam War: The 1968 Tet Offensive.”
  • Pleasant Valley Middle School eighth grader Jasdeep Atwal won the Preservation of Archaeological and Historic Properties in Washington State Award for her “Celilo Falls: a Two-Sided Coin, a Triumph and Tragedy” project.
  • Chief Umtuch seventh graders Riley Elwess and Sora Tolley received the Ruth Kagi Award for their “Cherokee Trail of Tears” project.