ULS student’s ship has come in with essay contest win

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 17, 2019

 University Liggett School junior Margaret Hartigan, center, is honored April 2 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing for winning the district, state and division levels of the Daughters of the American Revolution Christopher Columbus essay contest. Pictured with Hartigan are DAR of Michigan state regent Gina LaCroix, left, and Mary Kabat, American History Committee state chairperson, right.

University Liggett School junior Margaret Hartigan, center, is honored April 2 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing for winning the district, state and division levels of the Daughters of the American Revolution Christopher Columbus essay contest. Pictured with Hartigan are DAR of Michigan state regent Gina LaCroix, left, and Mary Kabat, American History Committee state chairperson, right.

Photo by Cindy Jahn, DAR of Michigan state photographer

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — When 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus left Spain on a quest to discover a new world, his ships — the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria — were considered the most advanced vessels at the time.

Columbus used a technique called “dead reckoning” when navigating to the New World. The process of dead reckoning uses tools, such as a compass, to find the ship’s speed and direction, which is then marked on a map to determine which direction the ship is going.

That information was among the research information that University Liggett School junior Margaret Hartigan learned when participating in the Daughters of the American Revolution Christopher Columbus essay contest. She was sponsored by the Louisa St. Clair Chapter of the DAR, based in the Grosse Pointes.

On April 14, Hartigan learned that she won first place on the national level for her essay, which means she won top honors in the country. The news has left Hartigan “very excited.”

In February, Hartigan received first-place honors at the district level for her work. Late last month, it was announced that Hartigan had won the state contest and also the East Central Division level, which encompasses Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.

For the win, the ULS student was honored at a ceremony and luncheon April 2 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing. For the recognition, Hartigan received certificates for winning the district, state and division levels; a medal; and a $200 check, which she plans to use for college.

Hartigan’s essay was then sent to the National Italian American Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., for final judging to choose the national winner. As the winner, the high school student will travel to Washington, D.C., Oct. 14 to receive her award and read her essay at the Christopher Columbus Celebration.  

The NIAF will award a cash gift and transportation and lodging for the winning contestant and one parent or guardian. The second- and third-place national runners-up receive a cash gift from the foundation.

The topic for this year’s essay was “Comparing Ship Technology: The Ships Columbus Used Versus the Ships of Today,” and it had to be 800 to 1,200 words. Hartigan’s work was just under 1,150 words.

“We had to compare the technology of Christopher Columbus’ ships to the ships of today,” Hartigan said. “His ships were mostly used for exploring land.”

For instance, Columbus and crew used the stars at night to determine which direction they were traveling, as opposed to GPS navigational devices used today. Had GPS been available in 1492, the explorer would have been able to locate his direction more accurately and safely, and arrive at his destination much quicker. According to Hartigan’s winning paper, Columbus’ ships were constructed with specific roles for the journey.

“If Columbus had had access to the ships of today, he would have discovered that global positioning systems are common and effective tools for safely navigating,” the essay states. “Modern-day GPS and navigational technologies would have allowed Columbus to know not only his direction and speed but also his location and destination.”

Hartigan spent at least five hours on her composition, including the writing portion and conducting research. She found the overall topic “pretty interesting.”

Hartigan, who said she loves writing, had found out about the essay contest through ULS teacher Christopher Hemler. She has the course “Class and Identity” with Hemler, in which the students learn about various social classes.

“Margaret wrote one of the best student essays I have ever read,” Mary Kabat, American History Committee state chairperson, DAR of Michigan, said in an email.

Each year, the essay contest begins at the chapter level with each participating state DAR chapter contacting local schools to ask for possible participation with the American history essay contest for grades five to eight, and the Christopher Columbus essay contest for high school students.

The chapter sets a deadline to receive the essays, and has three judges review and grade the essays and select their chapter winners. The winning chapter essays are then sent to the state level to be judged by three non-DAR judges.

The winners of the contest at the state level proceed to the division level to be reviewed in turn by its panel of judges, and then winners proceed to the national level. The National Society of the DAR joined with the NIAF in 1966 to sponsor the annual national essay contest.

For more information on the Louisa St. Clair Chapter of the DAR, visit www.louisastclairchapter.org.