Jon Gillum

NHD 1988-1994

Where do you currently live?

What is your current occupation?
Senior Counsel at Locke Lord LLP

What school did you attend while participating in NHD?
Cedar Bayour Junior High, Baytown, Texas
Ross S. Sterling High School, Baytown, Texas

What college did you attend?
B.A., Rice University
M. P. Aff., L.B.J. School of Public Affairs
J.D., University Texas School of Law

Who were your teachers?
Tobye Madison, Lyn Houk, & Carolyn Smith

What years and in what category did you participate in NHD?
1988, Jr. Group Documentary
1989, Jr. Individual Exhibit
1990, Jr. Individual Exhibit
1991, Sr. Individual Exhibit
1992, Sr. Individual Exhibit
1993, Sr. Individual Documentary
1994, Sr. Historical Paper

What are a few of your favorite or defining moments from your NHD experience?
In retrospect, I think I learned the most my senior year at the national contest in 1994 when I did not win a medal after having done so in previous years. It was then that I realized how much you can accomplish with a program like NHD even if you do not “win.” That moment also made me appreciate how important it is to never give up. If I had stopped competing after my first NHD project in 6th grade, then I never would have accomplished what I did the next six years.

My favorite NHD entry was the documentary I prepared in the 11th grade on American war correspondents in World War II. For that project, I had the chance to interview several former reporters including Joseph Rosenthal (who took the famous flag-raising photo at Iwo Jima) and Andy Rooney (of 60 Minutes fame)

My happiest NHD moment was winning first place at the national contest in 1992. Just four days earlier, I had to redesign my exhibit to conform with a new rule interpretation, and my exhibit was found to be in violation of the fire code. But, that’s a story for another day….

How did NHD help you after high school?
NHD has had a tremendous impact on my life. During high school, NHD developed my research, writing, and critical thinking skills, and gave me an edge over my peers in college admissions. I continued to develop those skills and expanded one of my NHD research projects in college, which I credit to getting into the graduate schools of my choice and earning full scholarships. I continue to use those same skills in my law practice today.

What recognition did you receive for participating in NHD?
I’d like to think that the awards I won (and did not win) are proof that you should never give up and should try, try again. Some years I did not win a medal at my state contest or even my regional contest. However, I did ultimately place in the top ten at nationals four years in row in three categories, including two first place finishes. I also won the Case Western Reserve scholarship at the 1992 national contest.

Did you do anything with your NHD project or research after the contest year?
I published my 1994 Sr. Historical Paper in the Texas Historian, which is a journal issued by the Texas State Historical Association. I also expanded my 1993 Sr. Individual Documentary into an honors thesis in college, which helped me earn a spot on the USA Today All-American College Academic Team.

What has kept you busy since your days as an NHD student? Any particular challenges, stories, or achievements?
I am an attorney at a top international law firm. My practice focuses on Texas administrative law with a particular emphasis on insurance and service contract regulatory issues. I also enjoy spending as much time as possible with my family, including my 3-year daughter and 7-year old son. In 2010, I was honored to receive the Clifton Caldwell Texas History Day Service Award from the Texas State Historical Association.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about your NHD experience?
Hardly a day goes by that I do not use the research, writing, and critical thinking skills that NHD first fostered 28 years ago. I also constantly use the “little” lessons that NHD taught me such as brevity, interview skills, scrutiny about the source of information, and the process of developing a rough idea into a polished end product. Apart from having served as a judge, mentor, and speaker, I currently serve on the NHD Board of Trustees and the Education Committee of the Texas State Historical Association, which oversees the Texas History Day program.

With so much emphasis in education today on standardized tests, there are few opportunities for students to engage in the type of original, long-term, and independent analysis that NHD requires. I have seen no better program for teaching students how to research, write, and critically think than NHD. Most students who participate in NHD do not become professional historians, but what NHD teaches them allows them to become professional at anything to which they set their minds.