Otaka, Murasaki NHD Project Qualifies for Nationals, Displayed in Smithsonian

Willow Otaka (far left) and Mia Murasaki (second from the left) visiting the Smithsonian to watch the presentation of their student documentary.

Photo Courtesy Amy Boehning

Willow Otaka (far left) and Mia Murasaki (second from the left) visiting the Smithsonian to watch the presentation of their student documentary.

Daisy Ann Hipolito, Reporter

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     In June 2018, two of MHS’s own qualified for the National History Day (NHD) national division, competing at the University of Maryland near Washington DC. NHD is a nationwide competition geared towards recognizing independent student research based around historical events. Willow Otaka and Mia Murasaki were freshmen at the time and are now currently sophomores.

    “Our topic was titled ‘The Prevention of Japanese American Incarceration Camps: The Conflict and Compromise of Japanese Americans in Hawaii,’” said Otaka. “We decided to focus on the specific location where the Japanese American Incarceration started, which was Hawaii. Not only was Hawaii the place closest to our hearts and our feet, but it was also the place where the most Japanese Americans lived at the time of WWII.”

    The two girls began their project in 2017, spending long and hard hours on their documentary. “I don’t think it’s a matter of expecting to qualify, but rather a matter of putting in days and weeks into your project and doing what you can to make your project the best it can possibly be. Even when you think that the documentary is the best it can possibly be, there’s always room for improvement,” said Otaka. Though, the two couldn’t have done it alone. Murasaki added, “We frequently met with our history teacher, Amy Perruso and Amy Boehning, one of the judges for NHD. Their advice and critiques helped us to not only advance in the competition but helped us to grow as students.”

    Amy Boehning the Co-Mililani High NHD Coordinator, acted as a mentor for the two freshmen. “This past year Willow and Mia gave me new insight on a topic I have taught about for years. Empowering students with skills brings me back every year,” said Boehning. “I’m very proud of Willow and Mia and how they represented our school well at the national contest. They were freshmen competing with the countries best.”

    Along with the many accolades that the pair got, their project came with a few challenges. With so many aspects to cover in 10 minutes, we had a hard time squeezing everything in,” said Murasaki. Otaka added, “When making our documentary we encountered several hardships. Some of them were technical, and others were communication error. In all though, all of the miscommunications were resolved, and we both created the best documentary we possibly could.”

    The duo’s NHD experience also taught them many lessons along the way. “I learned the importance of teamwork,” said Murasaki. “It sounds overrated and corny, but it’s really important to work with your partner effectively.

    On the other hand, Otaka found procrastination the most important lesson learned from doing NHD. “Whenever Mia and I would move up to another level of competition (school, district, states, nationals), we had a habit of procrastinating to the week before the competition. This caused me to be short on time when editing the revised versions,” said Otaka. “It was pretty traumatizing and it wasn’t healthy. I knew that if I never procrastinated, that kind of thing would have never happened.”

    Otaka and Murasaki offered some advice to other students looking to succeed in future NHD competitions. “Pick a topic that will surprise your judges. Don’t just pick something generic,” said Otaka. “Even if you pass the school wide competition, don’t just think it’s the end. Keep revising and asking for advice. There’s always something to improve.” Murasaki added, “People tend to do better when they have forged an emotional bond with their subject. That same passion keeps them excited about future projects and can turn a school project into an exhilarating journey!”

    Not only were Otaka and Murasaki able to compete at a national level, but their documentary was displayed in the African American History Museum in Washington DC. “It was pretty crazy. I never would have thought that freshmen like ourselves would ever get the chance to display a documentary in a museum in the Smithsonian,” said Otaka. Murasaki added, “Seeing those first few seconds of our documentary on the screen in the theatre was like a huge shot of adrenaline. Despite seeing our documentary over and over, it was like watching it for the very first time, that same feeling of pride, joy, anxiety and all the other emotions in between”

    Though, Otaka and Murasaki were not able to qualify beyond nationals this year, they do plan on continuing their journey with NHD next year as sophomores.

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Otaka, Murasaki NHD Project Qualifies for Nationals, Displayed in Smithsonian