Jefferson demonstrates how Declaration of Independence was written

Jefferson demonstrates how Declaration of Independence was written
Student volunteers help Thomas Jefferson show how the Declaration of Independence was drafted. The red banners indicate edits to the original draft.

More than 1,300 fifth-grade students from 18 public and private elementary schools in Duval County attended the annual historical character performance hosted and sponsored by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The State of Florida (NSCDA-FL) and funded by Wells Fargo and The Roger L. and Rochelle S. Main Charitable. The performances were held Jan. 22-23 at the Jacksonville Public Library downtown for students and each culminated with awarding of certificates to winners of the essay competition.

Thomas Jefferson with three of the essay contest winners: Lindsay Johnson, R.V. Daniels Elementary; Giulia Angiolillo, Riverside Presbyterian Day School, and Kayden Sanders, St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School
Thomas Jefferson with three of the essay contest winners: Lindsay Johnson, R.V. Daniels Elementary; Giulia Angiolillo, Riverside Presbyterian Day School, and Kayden Sanders, St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School

Each year’s presenter is well-versed in the portrayal of his or her character, including personalities, cultural nuances, and history with an interactive presentation and question and answers from the students. The school programs are coordinated by the Dames, school teachers, and school district department supervisors along with a curriculum and essay contest. 

Professional historical actor and “first-person interpreter” Steven Edenbo represented Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s most successful practical visionaries and effective leaders as the nation’s third president. Edenbo has a bachelor’s degree in English from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Penn., and has impersonated Jefferson since 1999.

Essay winner Cyrus Vaghefi, Bolles Whitehurst Campus, with Thomas Jefferson, portrayed by Steven Edenbo
Essay winner Cyrus Vaghefi, Bolles Whitehurst Campus, with Thomas Jefferson, portrayed by Steven Edenbo

Jefferson engaged the students, bringing a group of 10 onstage to help demonstrate how his initial draft of the Declaration of Independence – calling it America’s first birthday card – was edited during the process. He also used a 14th century cup-and-ball toy, called a bilboquet in French, to illustrate how ideas can be improved upon throughout the generations.

Winners of the essay contest included Giulia Angiolillo, Riverside Presbyterian Day School; Kayden Sanders, St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School; Kaden Townsend, St. Johns Country Day School; Cyrus Vaghefi, Bolles Whitehurst Campus; Lindsay Johnson, R.V Daniels Elementary School; Gwendolyn Raspberry, R.L. Brown Elementary School; Oscar Stone, Jacksonville Beach Elementary School; Samantha Lee-Duffell, J. Allen Axson Elementary School, and Micah Al-haleem, Daniel Academy.

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