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History graduate wins nearly $15,000 on Jeopardy!

Keith Costigan ’88 took home nearly $15,000 on the quiz show Jeopardy! in November, winning the first competition and losing the second by $1. The two episodes aired in January.

Being a history teacher for 20 years was perfect preparation, says Costigan, who teaches eighth-graders at Log College Middle School in Warminster, Pa. Still, he found that the Jeopardy! set tested his concentration.

“Of course, it is much easier to play at home on your sofa, and they would not let me bring my sofa to Hollywood,” he says. “The studio experience was very interesting all around. The show goes by in a 20-minute blur. You have no idea how you are doing until they take a commercial break and you look up to see your score.”

Costigan nailed the final answer in both shows.

“The first day’s topic was ‘19th century poet,’ he recalls. “The clue was a fragment of a quote. I guessed ‘Walt Whitman’ correctly because as I remember, the quote included the word ‘sing’ at least once, so I recognized it from ‘Song of Myself.’

“The second day’s topic was also pretty broad: ‘20th century’. The clue was something about an unknown man who became famous in ‘this city.’ I again guessed correctly that it was the unknown ‘tank man’ of Beijing.”

Costigan had heard about a contestant search and passed the initial online test. After passing further interviews and a trial game, he was invited to Los Angeles to compete on the televised show. It was an enjoyable experience from start to finish, and he even learned some tricks of the trade.

“When you are standing there, they try to make everyone the same height, so some people have to stand on boxes,” he explains. “They used to actually stand in a hole cut in the floor, but they told us more people tripped coming out of the hole than fell off the box.”

Teaching has turned out to be the perfect career for the history graduate. It affords him the freedom to be creative every day in the classroom while allowing him to indulge his love of travel in the summer. He has visited 36 countries and taught summer classes in Romania, India, and China.

“I taught part of each day in the orphanage in Hateg, Romania – very sad. There were hundreds of children for every half dozen workers there. It was a heartbreaking experience,” he says. “In India, we taught in Hyderbad in central India. My classroom had no door and no light, just a window and lizards on the walls. The kids had no desks, just boards they held on their knees. The kids stood up when you entered the room and said a sort of salute, a prayer thanking you for being their teacher and hoping they would learn a lot that day. That always shocked me. ‘Just like back in the USA,’ I would joke to myself.

“In China, we taught little kids in the morning and college students in the afternoon. It was in Qingdau, where the water sports of the 2008 Olympics were held. It was a place where Chinese go for vacation but not many westerners, so we were a curiosity. It was in 2001 so when the Towers fell, our students emailed us asking if we were okay – they thought all Americans lived in New York City or Los Angeles.”

A former member of Lafayette’s Division I swim team, Costigan still hits the pool regularly. After graduation, he was a lifeguard at the Jersey Shore and competed in open ocean swims and biathlons. An enthusiastic surfer, he plans to return to Hawaii this summer to find some new waves.

“The swim team was a great group of people and some of the nicest I met at Lafayette,” he says. “My favorite surf spot is still San Onofre, Calif., but for scenery I’d pick Hanalei Bay on Kauai – it was the backdrop for the movie South Pacific.”

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