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Two Bakersfield students win state-level National History Day competitions

Alexander Fan

Alexander Fan, a junior at Centennial, won the California National History Day competition in the Senior Individual Performance category with his project "The Pentagon Papers: The Right of Communication On Trial."

Bakersfield will continue its long tradition of sending students to the national level of the National History Day competition.

Two students, Anjana Chandrasekhar and Alexander Fan, were announced as winners in their categories at last weekend's California National History Day competition. This year's theme was "Communication in History: The Key to Understanding."

Fan, a junior at Centennial, won a special award for competing at the state level for his sixth year. He also won for his Senior Individual Performance category for his project "The Pentagon Papers: The Right of Communication On Trial."

Fan gave special thanks to his coaches, who include Gigi Maurer and the late John Hefner, a retired educator and proponent of National History Day in Kern County. Hefner began coaching Fan before Hefner became ill and died last year.

Part of Fan's project included a performance centered around three main actors in this crucial moment of history: Daniel Ellsberg, who released the papers; New York Times correspondent Neil Sheehan; and President Richard Nixon. 

Fan said his project tried to demonstrate the conflict between the two camps at the peak of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg became a whistleblower when he realized that government officials were lying about the failure of the war. Nixon represented a long line of administrations who didn't want to admit defeat. When the New York Times won the right to publish the Pentagon Papers in court, it was a victory not just for the free press at home but for countries around the world.

The winners for National History Day often interview sources close to history, and for his project, Fan interviewed Ellsberg's son who had assisted him, a lawyer who represented the New York Times against the administration and a Vietnam veteran.

Chandrasekhar, a student at Warren Junior High, won the Junior Individual Website category with the project "Luther L. Terry: The Communication of the 1964 Report by the Surgeon General on Smoking and Health."

Her coach Courtney Pearson, a history teacher at Warren Junior High, was proud that Chandrasekhar came out on top in a category in which more than 700 competed.

Chandrasekhar put together a website about Luther L. Terry's role in transforming the way that we think about smoking. As surgeon general, he established an advisory committee to review the harmful effects of smoking and ultimately he released the groundbreaking "1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health."

Pearson describes the work Chandrasekhar did as "college-level," with multiple documentary exhibits. 

"It’s a really cool project she put together," she said.

Chandrasekhar enjoyed gathering information from both primary and second sources.

"My favorite part about working on this project was using my creativity to create a website by incorporating pictures, short/audio video clips and quotes," she wrote in an email.

Most years, winning students head to Washington, D.C., in June to spend the week, but this year the national competition will remain virtual.

Chandrasekhar was just excited that at least National History Day could continue despite the pandemic.

Two special awards were also given to Kern County students. Thomas Wilson and Matthew Fan (Alexander's younger brother) from Fruitvale Junior High received recognition in the European History category. Ekamjot Natt from Warren Junior High received recognition in the Maritime History category.