West Hartford Middle Schooler Excels in National History Day Competitions

Rising freshman Luke Kalke representing Connecticut at the National History Day competition.

West Hartford student Luke Kalke earned second in the Connecticut State History Day Contest in the Junior Individual Documentary category and represented Connecticut at the National History Day contest. 

By Bridget Bronsdon 

Luke Kalke, a 2023 Sedgwick Middle School graduate, made his National History Day debut this past May as he earned second in the Connecticut State History Day Contest in the Junior Individual Documentary category. Kalke then went on to represent Connecticut at the National History Day contest at the University of Maryland. 

Although it was his first National History Day competition, Kalke blew his opponents out of the water with his research on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and post-apartheid racial tensions in South Africa. 

“The TRC was a frontier because it helped create a less prejudiced South Africa by giving many South Africans who were severely impacted by apartheid a voice to address their past without judgment and move forward, which aided in the development of a post-apartheid South Africa,” Kalke wrote in his formal composition. 

As complex as the historical sequence may be, Kalke approached the themes with grace. The rising freshman explained that it’s important to be able to look back at history and “see you can resolve problems by talking about it.” 

When discussing where the spark of inspiration came from, Kalke described a book club activity in school that jump-started his research. After reading “The Power of One,” a novel detailing a young boy’s struggles with the early days of apartheid, Kalke was drawn to the subject matter. From this point, Kalke began researching Desmond Tutu, commissioner of the TRC, and collaborated with his QUEST teacher David Lee to narrow down his project lens. 

When formulating his research, the young historian didn’t simply rely on interview clips and photos, but he went a step further in conducting his own interview. Kalke had the opportunity to sit down with Alexander Brederode, a professor studying in South Africa. Dr. Brederode was able to describe first-hand accounts to Kalke regarding living in South Africa at the time of apartheid. Through this discussion, Kalke was able to gain new perspectives but also said that it “opened my eyes to what I’m missing.”

Following a lengthy creation process, Kalke was ready to debut his project. The first of the competitions was a regional round in which he was able to receive critiques. Kalke was then able to use the critiques he received from the judges to add new elements to his project.

Even though Kalke had roughly two weeks to modify and remodel certain aspects of his documentary, he explained, “I think that is where most of my improvement happened.” 

From this point, Kalke entered the state’s round. “States was very difficult because there were a lot of strong projects,” Kalke said. Even so, the young researcher prevailed and went on to earn second place. “It was very exciting because going from third in regionals to second in states is a big jump and that really motivated me to push more to have a great project in finals.”

Amidst all the fierce competition, Kalke was able to walk away from the project with a deeper message, one of empathy and education. “Going through it and actually learning about all the traumatic experiences that happened and the people affected by apartheid,” Kalke said. “It opened up my eyes that there’s a lot that people are missing and don’t know about tragic stuff that happened in history.”

Kalke continued, “From this, I learned that I can spread ideas and important history to others so that we know more about history and so that history doesn’t repeat itself.” 

Following the year-long project, Kalke can walk away from his research not just as a National History Day champion, but as a rising historian.

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Bridget Bronsdon

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