Gamboa’s project, titled “No Rights Left: The Jews and the Holocaust,” is the result of months of research and competing at the local level.
The National History Day program lasts for almost an entire year, beginning in the fall and concluding with the national competition the following summer. More than half a million students choose topics of study based on an annual theme; this year, the theme was “Rights and Responsibilities.”
Students participating in the program sift through historic documents, conduct oral histories and scour the Internet to create their projects, which can take the form of anything from museum exhibits to original performances to traditional research papers. After progressing through a series of history contests in their local districts and states, the top two students in each of the nine categories are selected to present their projects at the national level.
Over 300 historians and educators will evaluate the students’ work in Maryland this June, awarding thousands of dollars in scholarships to the most outstanding students in each category. Last year, about 100 projects earned prizes that ranged from $250 to $5,000.
Meaghan said a teacher with whom she shares close ties inspired her to get involved in the program.
“I was interested in this contest by my history teacher, Mrs. Gamboa, who is also my mom,” she said. According to her mother, Hope, Meaghan has been a student in Mrs. Gamboa’s history class since the sixth grade.
While June will mark the first time Meaghan has advanced to the contest’s top tier, she has progressed to the state level five times in years past.
This year, Meaghan created a documentary film to present her research on the Holocaust.
“I think it was really significant involving human rights,” she said. “It was one of the worst instances of genocide in human history.”
Of all the digging she did, from combing primary sources to visiting the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, Meaghan said her favorite was speaking to the son of a Holocaust survivor.
“Michael Farkas owns a store in Smyrna, and I just happened to stop by with my dad after a track meet,” she explained. “We started talking, and we somehow got onto the topic of the Holocaust.”
Meaghan said that Farkas’ father, Mendel, a Czechoslovakian teen at the time, was one of many prisoners forced by Nazis into a death march as the Allies were closing in. Along the way, she said, it began to rain, and Mendel saw an opportunity when the Nazis put on their rain jackets. Because their guns were covered, Meaghan explained, Mendel correctly figured that he would be able to dash into the woods before they could draw their weapons. Mendel went on to find respite with Russian troops.
History is not the only academic arena in which Meaghan excels.
She boasts a 4.2 GPA, and has been accepted into Kennesaw State University’s dual enrollment program as an admissions scholar, which means her SAT scores fall among the top 5 percent of all applicants, her mother said.
Meaghan also serves as the vice president of the student council, runs on the track team, sings in the chorus and tutors special needs students.
She does not yet know which college she will attend, though her mother said she has been contacted by Harvard and Notre Dame.
“I have looked at sociology, and I’m also very interested in African-American history as well,” she said. “So I may do something in regards to history in the future.”
However, Meaghan insists she’s still undecided about her future.
She will head to the University of Maryland College Park Campus in the Washington, D.C. area June 15-19 for the competition.