Midtown Raleigh News

Research paper was a labor of love

A passing mention Frances Cayton heard in a history class was enough to fuel more than a year of intense research for a paper that never got a grade. In fact, it wasn’t even assigned.

But that’s not to say that Frances, a senior at St. Mary’s School in Raleigh, wasn’t rewarded for her effort. Her paper was accepted for publication this fall in The Concord Review, a highly selective quarterly journal that publishes academic research papers from high school students.

In Frances’ Western Civilization honors class sophomore year, teacher Lisa Grabarek mentioned that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s policies killed more people than Hitler did, and Frances wanted to know more.

Her research led her to the Holodomor, a Ukrainian name (it means “murder by hunger”) for the famine that killed more than 7 million Ukrainians in the 1930s under Stalin’s collectivization program.

“I didn’t really know what to do with all the information I found,” said Frances, a senior at the Raleigh girls school, “but I was really interested in it, so I just ended up writing a paper.”

She gave the paper to her teacher for a critique, and once Grabarek got over the shock of seeing a paper that wasn’t completed to fulfill an assignment, she realized that with a little more work and a lot more length, the paper would be a strong candidate for The Concord Review.

“I hesitated to suggest it, because I knew it would require hours of additional research and writing, and that the chances of it being accepted were not in her favor,” Grabarek said, citing the publication’s 7 percent acceptance rate.

“But then I thought, knowing Frances, that she would think it had been a worthwhile endeavor to learn how to research and write at that level, even if her paper wasn’t accepted.”

If you’ve never heard of the Holodomor, don’t worry. It was kept under wraps by the Soviet press, and even by the Western press, and information has only started to emerge in recent decades. That, in large part, is what drew Frances to the topic.

“I’d heard of the Gulag and Stalin’s other crimes before, and those are horrific, but I kept kind of hearing back to this number of 7 million Ukrainians, and I just didn’t know why there wasn’t much out there,” she said. “… Then it was just kind of this mystique of why isn’t it out there, why don’t we know about it?”

Six drafts before submitted

She spent months combing through old documents and newspaper archives, logging many hours in the N.C. State library. She wrote six drafts, submitting each to Grabarek for suggestions, until she was satisfied enough with her paper, titled “The Ukrainian Holomodor and the Western Press,” to submit it.

She submitted the paper in March, and then the long wait began. She’d nearly forgotten about it by the time she got word that Grabarek was looking for her while she was on campus at the end of summer, just before the school year started.

Grabarek asked her to sit down, and then broke the big news.

“I couldn’t really believe it,” Frances said. “Once I got into the process, I was more interested in the actual topic matter, and not really focused on whether this would get published or not. … I was just really surprised and shocked. I guess I still am. Holding it is, like, ‘what?’ ”

Frances credits her teacher not only for her notes in the margin in all six of those early drafts, but also for the encouragement to keep going.

“I would have never imagined when I first started Western Civilization that that would have even been a possibility in all possible worlds, that I could write a paper that would one day be published,” Frances said. “She was just really encouraging with it and really supportive. I think having that support made me want to follow through even more. It made me feel like I could do it.”

As she begins to think about career plans, Frances thinks she might want to play a similar role in the lives of others.

“I think it would be interesting to be a professor or a teacher,” she said, “or just to be in a place where I could continue doing my own research but also work with others and kind of help them find their own thing that they’re passionate about.”

Know a young person who makes you proud? Tell us about it via our online form at newsobserver.com/thumbsup, by emailing thumbsup@newsobserver.com, or by calling 919-829-4828.