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News, 6/21/2018

Piece of Finnish History in the National History Day Contest

Emerson Meeks, a Finnish-American Las Vegas high school student, competed in the National History Day Contest (NHD). More than half a million students around the world conduct historical research on a topic of their choice in this national competition running since 1974. 

As a dual citizen, Emerson took a closer look at his Finnish heritage – the life of his great great-grandfather Matti Oikari, a volunteer soldier and a war orphan, and the history of a nation full of sisu which celebrated its 100 years of independence.

"This June, I competed in the National History Day competition representing the state of Nevada. Many different projects could be created to follow the competition’s theme this year, Conflict and Compromise, and compete on the school, state, and national levels. My project was a 10-minute performance titled “Unbeatable Sisu: The Winter War, a Military Conflict and Bittersweet Compromise between Finland and the Soviet Union.”

Having Finnish heritage, as well as being a dual citizen of Finland and the United States, I wanted my project to tell a story of conflict and compromise in the young nation of Finland during the 20th century. The National History Day competition was a great experience with people from all over the country and even the world who all love history just as much as me. This project was incredibly valuable for me to learn more about my Finnish heritage and ancestors.

On the day of the competition, I performed at the University of Maryland in front of three judges and a small audience. Sitting on my great-great grandmother’s milking stool, remembering the battles of Kolla and Suomussalmi in the Winter War, I was able to share the story of my great-great grandfather and all those brave men and women who tirelessly defended Finland.

Using knowledge gained from interviews of Winter War veterans to civilians impacted by the war, to even contacting President Sauli Niinistö for his reflections, I was able to learn more about Finnish history. I also had access authentic props, such as the Winter War uniform, a backpack made of birch bark, wartime pictures and a handmade picture frame, and my great-great grandfather’s military passport, making the connection to this event even closer to my heart.

Emerson 2

While waiting for the results, I was able to tour landmarks in Washington D.C., as well as visit possible future colleges, such as Georgetown and Princeton. I did not get through to the finals, but I was picked as the best senior project from Nevada! Unbeatable sisu – hyvä Suomi!"

Text by:
Emerson Meeks, age 16,
Las Vegas

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Updated 6/22/2018

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