LOS ANGELES — Three eighth graders from Kansas have won the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes’ 2016 Discovery Award for their video about Armenian Genocide rescuer Emma Darling Cushman. The students and their teacher, Nathan McAlister, drew on the University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation for support and resources to help their passion project come to life.
Colin Caviness, Luke Boyden and Colin Everts worked together to research and produce a 10-minute documentary film titled “Emma Cushman: A Light in the Darkness,” in McAlister’s seventh-grade history class at Royal Valley Middle School in Mayetta, Kansas last year. Their assignment was to research a historical figure who was an “unsung hero,” and McAlister said the boys were fascinated by Cushman’s story.
Cushman was an American nurse who worked in a hospital in historic Armenia and then refused to leave when the Genocide began. She found safe houses for countless orphans and then converted the hospital into an orphanage. She also served as Acting Consul of the Allies and Neutral Nations, overseeing millions of dollars in relief funds and prisoner exchanges.
Despite this lifesaving work, Cushman is to this day relatively unknown and never received official acknowledgment for her work. Her grave is unmarked.
The three pored over historical texts, online research materials and library resources to discover Cushman’s story. They also reached out to USC Shoah Foundation staff, Richard Hovannisian, Armenian Genocide expert and advisor for the Institute’s Armenian Genocide testimony collection, and Sara Cohan, Armenian education and outreach specialist, to be interviewed in the video.
Cohan has a personal connection to the story: her own family was saved by Cushman, and her great-grandfather worked with her in the hospital before he was killed in the Genocide.
The students also included a clip from the testimony of Jirair Suchiasian, who was a reclaimed orphan of the Armenian Genocide, which they found in IWitness.
The boys won the $7,500 grand prize in the 2016 Discovery Award contest, which challenges elementary through high school students around the world to make a video about someone they feel is an unsung hero who positively impacted the lives of others.
Because of their diligent research and passion for Cushman’s story, the group was given the honor of inscribing her headstone at the American cemetery in Cairo where she is buried.
The boys said the project helped them develop skills in researching, writing and using film editing software. They also thanked USC Shoah Foundation and others who helped them along the way.
“When I first started this project I was skeptical, would this work, can we do this, would it be good enough? But as soon as we started working my fear vanished,” Boyden said. “I really enjoyed doing research on Emma Darling Cushman and learning her story. She is very inspiring and her story deserves to be told. I am so glad I was a part of this project.”
Cushman herself also inspired the group to emulate her selflessness and bravery in their own lives.
“Throughout this project, I learned that one person standing against oppression and genocide can save thousands of lives,” Colin Caviness said. “The courage required to do such astonishing things is amazing and I now look up to Emma and others like her who did what was right even though it was very dangerous and terrifying to do so.”