Student history documentary will be showcased at Smithsonian


Patrice Graham

William Tan, Louis Auxenfans and Serena Thomas have been recognized for their history documentary. Also, Dr. Cynthia Jurisson, second from left, earned the Illinois National History Day Governor’s Award.

Amy Ren, Reporter

A documentary by juniors Louis Auxenfans, William Tan and Serena Thomas was selected to be  a part of the Virtual Documentary Showcase at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)  and their teacher, Cindy Jurisson, received Illinois’ National History Day Governor’s Award for her outstanding work over the last few years. 

Their documentary, “Jazz Dissonance: Examining the Irony of the State Department’s Cold War Diplomacy During the Civil Rights Era,” advanced through the regional and state competitions of National History Day to the  national round, which gave them the opportunity to showcase their documentary at the Smithosonian. The documentary will be showcased along with roughly 30 others on the NMAAHC Learning Lab page June 13-27.

The documentary is about the “Jazz Ambassadors,” a program where the United States State Department sent African American jazz musicians abroad to promote the nation’s image during the Cold War.

Serena said she didn’t expect that their documentary would be displayed.

“When we heard about it, we were, like, ‘Wow, that’s so crazy,’ because we’d always thought ‘That’d be really cool to get, but it’s probably not going to happen,’” Serena said. “So actually having it displayed in the Smithsonian is a really cool opportunity and something I think is pretty unique.”

 Dr. Jurisson, history teacher and National History Day project sponsor, founded the NHD program at U-High 13 years ago, and she said the award commends her work.

“I think the award is given for cumulative work over many years,” Dr. Jurisson said. “It honors me for excellence in the practices to historical research and history education, but I also think it’s an honor to students that they have worked really hard.”

The documentaries selected to be displayed at the Smithsonian have a focus on African American history, and they highlight people who are historically underrepresented and inaccurately portrayed. Dr. Jurisson emphasizes that Louis, William and Serena, along with other participants in the NHD competition, discovered that digging for the truth is difficult, but rewarding and important.

Additional reporting contributed by Zara Siddique.