My backpack digs into my shoulders as I walk out of East, my thumbs hooked into my straps, my eyes tracing my steps. In my head, I’m tallying the number of days I have left in this building. Eleven. Twelve, counting the final Harbinger deadline.
Down the hall, a janitor is whistling. He’s one of the new guys, brought in by the recent restaffing. He looks at me and stops his whistling as he opens the door.
“You have a lovely day,” he says, cracking that wide grin.
“You too, sir.” I smile back as I walk through the door, glancing over my shoulder as the whistling starts again.
I bet there’s a story there. Maybe I could do a feature, starting with that nice little vignette—
I stop my stream of thought before it can get any farther. That’s not my job anymore. My job is to take my last few finals, ace two AP tests and pass my spot on the Harbinger onto someone younger, fresher and better equipped. It’s not my job to find new articles. It’s not my job to write this school’s stories.
Unfortunately, I’ve grown rather fond of writing about East.
Actually, that’s an understatement. I adore writing about this school. When I hear a piece of news, I jot it down as a note in my phone and bring it up in the j-room. When I have a funny conversation with a talented sophomore artist in the hall, I begin drafting the lede of a story about her in my head. And as I’m getting closer to throwing my Columbia blue graduation cap in the air, I’m becoming painfully aware of all the stories I won’t ever get the chance to write.
I won’t get to write about our second state football championship. I won’t get to write that feature I’ve been itching to do about the homeless man who comes to all the basketball games, or the story about McKinney’s pledge to be an ally for LGBT students next year. There are a million stories, big and small, just aching to be written at East. And they’re not mine to write anymore.
I wish I had just a little longer — a week, a month — to write one more story. But if I’m being honest, it would never be enough. I could write about this school for the rest of my life. I’ll have to be satisfied with the stories I was able to write. And if I’m honest, they were incredible.
I’ve been told that truly talented writers don’t need a great story to write well, that they only need their own talent. That might be true, but I’ve never believed that the merit of my stories came from my writing abilities. It came from the people I wrote about.
I’ve spent countless hours curled up on that splotchy blue couch in Room 521, cursing about word count and rewriting sentences 10 times to find the perfect connection of phrases. I’ve spent countless hours crying over these stories — truly crying, at the strength of a boy overcoming his brother’s death and the tenacity of a girl learning to speak when doctors told her it was impossible, over the cruelty of racism and the power of friendship to overcome disability.
I have felt more while writing about East students than I have felt at any other time. And while it’s time to move on, I will never forget the way that writing about this school made me feel.
So thank you, Shawnee Mission East, for letting me write part of your story. It has truly been an honor.