American Studies students interview war veterans for documentary project

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American Studies students interview war veterans for documentary project

Amanda Chan

Co-written by Aditya Krishnan

Before school on Wednesday, Feb. 24, when most MVHS students were sleeping and taking advantage of late start, American Studies students gathered in classrooms and engaged in hour-long conversations with war veterans. As a part of a documentary project, American Studies students were supposed to interview the veterans and compile the highlights into a short 3-minute documentary.

war veteran

American Studies students talk with war veteran Donald Gateken. For the documentary project, students interviewed war veterans who served in the Vietnam War or World War II. Photo by Amanda Chan.

Students contacted the war veterans through Tom Dyer, a Cupertino Rotary member who helps the American Studies class obtain grants and money for camera equipment. Cupertino Rotary is a service club involved in a variety of sports and social events in Cupertino. The project aims to give students more knowledge about the wars, especially the soldiers’ experience, and is meant to pair with the war time history taught and the book The Things They Carried read in class for this unit. The documentary is a different type of project that most students aren’t used to doing, and for junior Emilie Yu, it was an opportunity to take part in a different type of learning experience.

“In the beginning, I was like, ‘It’s just another project,’” Yu said. “But then as it came closer and closer, I started getting excited because it’s human interaction and it’s a different project than normal.”

Gateken, the veteran that Yu’s group interviewed, served in naval intelligence for the Laos War and the Vietnam War. He was deployed for three cruises and shared many of his experiences with Yu’s group.

veteran

American Studies students film the interview with their war veteran. After the interview, students will create a short documentary with the highlights of their interview. Photo by Amanda Chan.

Each group is split up into different roles, including an interviewer, camera monitor and sound monitor. The American Studies class spent several days in class preparing for the interview by going over interview technique, questions to ask and camera training. When the documentaries are completed, some will be put up on the Library of Congress, the research library intended to serve the U.S. Congress.

American Studies and its 10th grade predecessor World Studies both pride themselves with big group projects that can be very interactive and applicable to real life. According to students this experience was very much the same.

“This stuff is actually kind of similar to another project we did last semester,” junior Andrew Chang said. “In that project, we were focusing on immigration in which we had to interview someone we knew that had immigrated from a foreign country.”

Yet despite being so similar, Chang added that the war veteran project was different because it required them to be more careful, as the veterans they talked to might have experienced PTSD or could be uncomfortable telling their life story to a stranger.

After talking with the veterans about their experiences, American Studies students reflected on what it was like to talk to them. For Chang and most other students, the interview wasn’t just any interview but rather one with people who have experienced a lot in their lives and that could be very sensitive.

“I would have to say that it was a very insightful experience,” Chang said. “I was very glad to have had this opportunity to talk with real people that have actually experienced what we read in textbooks.”