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Thirty Seconds of Silence This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.


Staring into the eyes of my scene partner, I frantically beat against the black curtain that has suddenly closed over my brain.

“But the possibility for a cure was left open!” my partner repeats, wide-eyed and panicked.


The seconds seem like hours. This mistake is crucial. This mistake is devastating.

Once again,

“The possibility for a cure was left open…”


Nothing can ruin everything.

Here, at the national competition of National History Day, my group is up against historical performances from 49 other states and several other countries. And my failure can put an end to eight months of ceaseless research and rehearsal. My failure can make it all worthless.


I have been acting since I was six years old. Never before have I completely forgotten a line during a performance. I have four partners who have put their hearts and souls into this project depending on me, four people who have been working tirelessly alongside me for the entire school year to get primary interviews, to gather sources, and to rehearse the performance until we knew it like the backs of our hands—and this is when I decide to draw a blank.

Finally, my line comes to me. Not from behind that damn black curtain, but from behind our carefully constructed set. From my best friend.

“A consequence of that belief!” she shouts, knowing, as only she can, exactly what I need to continue the performance.

“A consequence of that belief is that people continued to search for a cure to a disease that didn’t exist…”

The curtain lifts and I am back, reciting the lines exactly as we had rehearsed them. But after the final bow and our interview with the judges, there is nothing left to do but to ask myself: What went wrong?

The question tortured me for months.

The answer?


I made a mistake, one that I could not have predicted or avoided. It may have seemed disastrous at the time, but it helped me learn a lesson that many people are forced to learn in places far from the sheltered suburbia I call home.

Nothing can ruin everything.

No mistake or hardship can stop the world from turning, and dwelling on my mistakes will do no good unless I take the time to learn from them. There are far worse calamities than forgetting a line in the National History Day competition. I did not commit a felony, contract a fatal disease, kill an innocent person, or lose a loved one. We may not have moved on to the final round of competition, but we did become experts on a topic that we were extremely passionate about, and we were able to show that passion to our judges and peers, despite the few seconds of silence.

I went on to compete in National History Day for the rest of high school, getting to the national level three times out of four competitions, and placing at the state level all four times. Each year brought with it lessons in research, time management, and perseverance. Though important, none of these lessons affected me quite as much as the one I learned from those few seconds of silence in June of ninth grade.

Since those few seconds, I have failed my first test, gotten my first B+ on a report card, had 3 actors drop out of the show I was directing the day before the performance, and gone through numerous break-ups, breakdowns, and fall-outs. Those few seconds followed me through it all, reminding me every day that I am not the sum of the mistakes I’ve made, but rather the sum of the things I’ve learned from them. Those few seconds of silence should not and will not define my National History Day experience, just as a missed homework, a bad test grade, or a forgotten line will not define me.

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