July 25, 2017

Scholar Voices: Finding a voice through history & film

In today’s post, we hear from one of our newest Earl Woods Scholars, New York native Kaycie Santiago. Kaycie, who will be a freshman at Fordham University this fall, has written and produced her first documentary, “Mirror Mirrors? The Past and Present of Preston High School,” highlighting the history of her former high school. Read on to learn how her innate inquisitiveness and passion for history led her towards creating her first film.

By my senior year at Preston High School, I accomplished an unexpected and unprecedented achievement: I created a documentary that portrayed my school’s unique and vibrant history. My documentary, Mirror, Mirrors? The Past and Present of Preston High School, is based off an allegorical reconstruction of a broken mirror, which, in its fragmented pieces, symbolizes the many documents and books that I was overwhelmed by in my research.

As a freshman in high school, I was an inquisitive student whose thoughts ran quiet and deep. Rather than confront my social anxiety head-on, I instead found my voice through history. In mapping out the history of our globally connected world, I was fascinated by the concept that history goes beyond the pages of a textbook to impact each of us in a unique way. Even if we do not realize or fully understand its impact, the history of our predecessors has greatly influenced our concept of our world as we see it today.

But how is this possible? Do I wake up in the morning, turn on the lights in my house, and think “Wow, thank you Thomas Edison for inventing the lightbulb. This is such a life saver.”? Not really. Chances are, most of us do not think in this way, and I was no exception. During my sophomore year, my high school mentor proposed that I should submit a paper to a research contest sponsored by the New York State Archives. When I asked him what topic I should write about, he suggested that I should write a paper on the history of Preston High School and explore how its history permeates my educational experience.

After completing my research paper and winning a Certificate of Honorable Mention for my work from the New York State Archives, my mentor saw that I had the potential to display my project to a greater audience by creating a documentary based off of it. Although I had originally wanted to turn my research paper into a book, I knew that if I could create a documentary, it would be a more effective learning tool to help my fellow peers and the greater community understand how the history of Preston High School impacts all of us.


However, creating a documentary is much easier said than done. I had no knowledge of film editing and I did not consider myself to be tech savvy. The video production class offered at my high school conflicted with my AP European History class. So I faced the challenge of learning how to edit on my free time, which, in the midst of college applications and school work, was very limited. After several months of watching both the video production instructor and a student from his class edit some parts of the introduction to my documentary, I figured out how to edit on my own and I worked independently to edit the entire film.

Although there were times where I turned to the members of my production team for help with more refined editing, for the most part I sat in the editing room, by myself, for hundreds of hours and sifted through hours of b-roll, along with historical documents, archived photographs and music for my film—which  was another project in and of itself! Without a formal lesson in film editing or production, I managed to create my very first film fueled not by monetary funding but by my love and passion for historical education and inquiry.

This feat would not have been possible if it were not for me taking initiative and directing the course of my education. As a first-generation college student, I would have never imagined that I could accomplish so much on my own. Filmmaking is a male dominated industry, and, as a young woman who has faced many financial barriers, I feel as if my work, powered by love and care, has the potential to compete in both nationwide and international film festivals. It is my hope that I can reach for the stars and follow this dream.

I will be attending Fordham University in the fall and I intend on majoring in history. To further explore my love for film, I may potentially declare a minor in film and television. Being selected as an Earl Woods Scholar has enabled me to receive a full scholarship to college and has helped me realize that my dreams are achievable and are in fact coming true before my eyes.

With plans to submit her documentary to domestic and international film festivals, Kaycie has set up a Go Fund Me Page to help with the costs. You can make a donation here.

Redefining what it means to be a champion.