Focus On: Heritage—
Ten-Minute Trek

by Jayne Farrell

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    The fastest jetliner can’t do what she does: take people over a thousand miles in just ten minutes.

    It’s the night before your big project is due and you’re working feverishly in order to get a good mark. There’s a good chance you’ll be up late. Sound familiar?

    Imagine putting in that kind of time and effort for an entire year. That’s what Erin Johnson of the McLean Virginia Second Ward did. She got up close and personal with the Mormon pioneers so she could make a presentation for National History Day.

    “I read 45 books for the project. I got some of the books from the library, and people loaned some of them to me. I also read journals from ancestors and relatives,” says Erin.

    The work didn’t stop when Erin finished reading, though. She then put together a ten-minute dramatic presentation depicting the struggles the pioneers experienced as they crossed the plains.

    During that ten minutes, Erin takes the audience through trials on the plains such as a mother burying her small child by the side of the trail, and then on to Utah, where the Saints set up an orderly, productive society.

    “Each family member had a job on the trail, even the children,” says Erin in her presentation. She presents a short account of a pioneer child gathering buffalo chips to burn. She points out that everyone’s job was important on the trail—glamorous or not.

    All her hard work paid off when Erin won third place in the Junior National competition, as well as a special award in her state division. High praise for a 12-year-old who had to prepare, set up, and perform her presentation with no help from anyone.

    “I think it’s important to be well educated and work hard,” says Erin. “I also have a much greater appreciation for my ancestors and what they went through after doing this project.”

    Erin says she now also appreciates her own family even more than she did before.

    “They’ve helped me a lot,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without their support.”

    Photography by Matt Reier and courtesy of family