I started my life as a professional historian early.

I once won a $200 savings bond from the local Civilian Conservation Corps alumni chapter for writing the best essay on the history of the CCC. I remember that essay and wince to the depths of my soul. It was like a very empirical encyclopedia article, and every single sentence was footnoted. 89 notes in 3 pages. I still have the savings bond—somewhere. I think it’s in a folder of important papers that I can’t find. I find it about every two years, and decide to keep hoarding it for a rainy day. I think the paper vanished into the transition from actual floppy disks to pretend floppy disks to college to my own computer.

I also won third place in the local History Day contest. That paper had a little more analysis—I think it argued Irish immigration enabled the civil war, which honestly, I still think is a decent argument to come up with in high school (I remember my mother kept wanting me to discuss the irony that the Irish factory laborers were basically enslaved, yet enabled the end of slavery, but I didn’t consider that relevant to the argument). Anyhow, third place was perfect—my paper was honored, but unlike my friend who won second place, I didn’t have to do any more work on it, because it wasn’t going onto the state round of the contest.

For some sort of application where I had to write an imaginary conversation with a figure from American history, I chose Henry Clay. For some reason, I thought his picture in the textbook looked kind of appealing (it might be this picture, although now he looks awfully snarky). And I liked his attempt at making a compromise, I’m big on compromises. I suspect that the total randomness of a conversation with Henry Clay had something to do with my successful application.