Stephanie’s win­ning es­say makes his­tory

Southern Riverina news - - NEWS - By James Ben­nett

Fin­ley High School Year 11 stu­dent Stephanie Har­ris has won a pres­ti­gious state award for his­tory es­say writ­ing.

She was named the state win­ner of the 2017 Na­tional His­tory Chal­lenge for her es­say en­ti­tled ‘Ching Shih: Il­le­gally Mak­ing a Bet­ter World’.

She will re­ceive her award at Par­lia­ment House in Syd­ney to­day.

This year’s es­say con­test asked stu­dents to write to the theme ‘Mak­ing a Bet­ter World’.

Stephanie said she chose to write her 1800 word es­say on Ching Shih — a fe­male pi­rate from the Qing China who com­manded the China Sea in early 19th cen­tury — be­cause of the ruth­less im­pact she left on the Chi­nese.

‘‘I wanted to write about some­body in­ter­est­ing, who would keep my in­ter­est un­til the rest of the term.

‘‘If I picked some­one bor­ing I would have just ig­nored the es­say.

‘‘Ching Shih caused a lot of trou­ble for the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment.

‘‘Some of her im­pacts — both po­lit­i­cal and so­cial en­vi­ron­ment — con­trib­uted to a bet­ter world.’’

Stephanie said she has found joy in writ­ing both his­tory and English es­says dur­ing her stud­ies, and said she has learned ‘‘so much’’ from re­search­ing and read­ing about char­ac­ters and his­tor­i­cal fig­ures.

The state award came as a big shock for the stu­dent though, who said even be­ing judged best in the re­gion was a big hon­our.

‘‘I was called to the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice and I was freak­ing out, think­ing I was in trou­ble,’’ Stephanie said of the way she was no­ti­fied.

His­tory teacher Kate Littlejohn said it was the first time she had seen Stephanie speech­less.

‘‘It was very ex­cit­ing to re­ceive the email (about Stephanie’s win); I had to do a dou­ble take,’’ Mrs Littlejohn said.

‘‘It’s a very pres­ti­gious award. I know many schools that have en­tered year-in, year-out and have not had a win­ner.

‘‘The His­tory Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion judges the New South Wales sec­tion and they’re a very high aca­demic level group of peo­ple, so I was de­lighted they thought the work we’re do­ing here is worth­while.’’

Mrs Littlejohn said she was cer­tain Stephanie’s choice of sub­ject set her apart.

‘‘Some of my stu­dents wrote about Princess Diana, Civil Right ac­tivists, Gandhi or Alexan­der Flem­ing and the pos­i­tive im­pact they had on the world.

‘‘Stephanie took Ching Shih’s story and ex­plained how this per­son was aw­ful but was able to say she had a pos­i­tive im­pact on so­ci­ety.’’

Fin­ley High prin­ci­pal He­len McRae said Stephanie has done the school proud, say­ing her win was a ‘‘huge deal for a small ru­ral school’’.

‘‘Stephanie is show­ing she can mix it with the best from across the state and even Aus­tralia,’’ Mrs McRae said.

‘‘These awards are usu­ally won by the elite Syd­ney schools, so for a Fin­ley High School stu­dent to win this is amaz­ing.’’

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