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Essay contest winner earns trip to Gettysburg sesquicentennial

Posted on: February 28

By Hannah Moody

Like most students, O.J. Gibson had been looking for job or an internship after school got out the summer of 2012.  His dad, thinking outside the box, ran a search through The Master’s College scholarship site and found The Platt Family Scholarship Essay Contest. The question for the entry was “Did Lincoln Free the Slaves?” It was a perfect fit for Gibson, a Master’s College history major who uses all his electives to study early American history.

“I relate to it because it’s my own personal heritage. I think it’s kind of natural,” Gibson said.

Gibson carved out a couple hours every day from the end of May through the month of July to research and write. It was worth a try and offered him the opportunity to get more experience in his field.  First prize was $1,500 and a trip to the Lincoln Symposium: an annual gathering of the members of the Lincoln Forum to hear some of the premier historians speak on Lincoln and the Civil War Era.

The long hours turned into 1st prize in this national essay contest.

With more than 20 sessions featuring the world’s preeminent civil war historians, and by giving him the opportunity to learn directly from the authors he had studied all summer, the Lincoln. Symposium was, according to Gibson, something akin to celebrity shock for history majors.

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It was a practical three days for Gibson, as well.  He hopes to pursue his love of early American history into graduate school, and beyond that into a career as a history writer.

One of Gibson’s favorite sessions involved a panel of three different authors who sat down and broke down the different aspects of how Lincoln prepared the 272-word Gettysburg Address.

“It was really fascinating to me ... just thinking that a speech, which is so small, can have such an impact, and the whole process that goes into whittling, forming and shaping it,” Gibson said.

It was the chance to learn all the details that wouldn’t fit in the textbooks.

“When you hear them talk about it, it brings new meaning to the book,” Gibson said.

But the best part was walking the battlefield the morning of Nov. 19 on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

“I got there at eight and had two hours to myself.  Everyone else was setting up and getting good seats over at the cemetery; it was a madhouse,” Gibson said. “So while everyone else was there, I was walking around the battlefield, which was just amazing.”

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James McPherson, a premier civil war historian, spoke at the ceremony. The Battle of Gettysburg had marked a turning point in our nation’s history, he said, and decided how our country would then face conflicts like World Wars I and II.

For Gibson, all of that boiled down to one spot: the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. This spot marks the farthest the Confederate army got, and the closest the South came to winning the battle.

“It really boils all of human history, all of American history, down to this one point … and just to see that place is really kind of moving,” Gibson said.

It is a rare surprise to win a chance to be where history happened and to be surrounded by people who share your passion. Beyond the surreal experience, though, is the grounded reality of networking.

“It was a really good springboard. I have so many information and connections now,” Gibson said. “I had several people talk to me and want to know what I had written. A couple people wanted a copy of the essay. It made me happy because the work I had done and the words I had written weren’t just going to sit there.”

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Dr. John Stead, Professor of History and Political Studies and acting Vice-President of Academic Affairs at The Master’s College, was excited to hear of Gibson’s success. He was a student in a pair of Stead’s classes.

“O.J. is an outstanding student, one of the best,” Stead said. “He is an excellent writer and researcher. This was a great opportunity for him to go back to meet some of the finest historians on Lincoln and the Civil War.”

Stead was also encouraged as he sees academics as an area to be more strongly encouraged among the student body.

“We can hold students up like O.J. as someone to look to for an example,” he said. “There are a lot more students that need to be aware of opportunities like this.”

Hannah Moody is a TMC communication major.