Josh Sander, 15, is the Boston winner of Operation Sail’s “Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Essay and Art Competition,” a contest for high school students to honor the 200th anniversary of the war. Sander, who will be a junior this fall at Newton South High School, won for his essay, “Baptism by Fire: The Revenue Cutter Service in the War of 1812.” “Revenue cutters,” or small schooners, were built and implemented under the supervision of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to ensure that tariffs were collected on all imported goods.
Q. You could choose from a few different topics to write about, correct?
A. Yeah, it was either the role of the USS Constitution, what “The Star-Spangled Banner” means to me, or the role of the Revenue Cutter Service.
Q. Why did you choose the Revenue Cutter Service?
A. Everyone knows about the Constitution and everyone knows about “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This was kind of an opportunity to learn about something that isn’t that common. I feel like the Revenue Cutter Service wasn’t really recognized even though they were really important, so I wanted to get that out there.
Q. And why an essay and not art?
A. Oh, I can’t draw.
Q. What did you want to convey in your essay?
A. Well, it’s to show what the Revenue Cutter Service did, but it’s also to show that it wasn’t really that different from what the Coast Guard does.
Q. Do you think the Revenue Cutter Service influenced the Coast Guard?
A. It was like a precursor to it. They basically serve the same function, and the Revenue Cutter Service laid an outline for the Coast Guard today.
Q. Have you thought at all about joining the Coast Guard?
A. I’ve thought about it but I still have a few years left of high school so I’m not entirely sure what I’ll wind up doing.
Q. Have you always been interested in history?
A. Ever since I was really little, I’ve loved history. I kind of go in phases. I’ll be really into World War II, and then I’ll want to know all about the Civil War. So the period in history that I’m interested in changes, but I’ve always loved history itself.
Q. What phase are you into now?
A. World War I, right now.
Q. Any particular reason?
A. Not really, it’s one that I haven’t spent that much time reading about so I’m just trying to learn as much as I can.
Q. Why is a competition like this important for high schoolers? What was your motivation?
A. I think it’s important because at school, there’s a pressure to do things for the grade. For this, it’s people who actually care about the subject. It’s different and it’s a big challenge, but I really enjoy US history and this is a great opportunity to learn about it, so I kind of figured, why not?
Interview was edited and condensed. Erica Thompson can be reached at erica.thompson@