I only spent four years at Champaign Central High School. For four years, I walked its halls and sat in the too-small desks and dripped sweat all over the floor in Combes Gym. I remember walking in on my first day as a freshman and just staring at that huge, huge building, having no idea that one place was capable of holding so many memories and emotions.
What is a building? What goes into a school like Central? Sure, there’s concrete and glass and iron, maybe a little asbestos here and there, but to attend a school so rich in history and tradition goes deeper than the serious facade. My life as a young adult was shaped in that building.
To go back now, after having completed my last day of class, I’d have to look at Central with a new eye. The gym, for one, holds such tangible memories — I trained in that gym, as did hundreds of other athletes, and tasted both victory and defeat. Hours of my life were spent sliding sweatily along the floor, diving for volleyballs. I did (i.e. tried to do) hundreds of punishment pushups and ran countless lines. I saw myself become mentally and physically stronger and built a lasting relationship with my team. I learned to be a leader. In Combes I bled and celebrated and cried. I watched our boy’s basketball team extract a victorious triple-overtime win over Centennial, and I watched the same game end in a tragic loss the very next year. The feeling of moving with crowd of Bleacher Bums, feeling like I was part of something bigger than myself, was incredible. Everyone shouted together for one team, our team, our Maroons.
I remember being squeezed into the bleachers with the entire population of the school in response to a possible bomb threat, and feeling slightly threatened but mostly elated that I was missing most of my first hour class. In Combes every year at Honors Day, I teared up as the Keegan Bannon Memorial Scholarship was presented. The loss of such a bright, promising young man and Central’s supportive and personal response to his passing moved me. I was moved by the description of his accomplishments and accolades — to be like the namesake of that award, I decided, was what I should strive for.
Oh, the bathrooms. The stinky, always-flooded, surprisingly-well-lit bathrooms. If there was one thing I did at Central more than write essays, pop my gum, or text in class, it was cry in the bathrooms. Tired crying: I played three hours of volleyball in the 90-degree gym and then had to go home and spend two hours on an APUSH cheat sheet that should’ve been done weeks ago and didn’t get to bed until three in the morning. Happy crying: I had just found out that I could room with my best friend in college and that we were going to go shopping at IKEA for dorm supplies. Sad crying: I was having a knock-down drag-out fight with my mother about my not-so-collegiate volleyball career that crashed and burned after two years of intense training and recruiting. Ridiculous crying: high school relationship problems; need I say more? too much orrrr nah
In Ms. Munroe’s third-floor math classroom, I learned the right way to stress over finals: study hard and study early. The wrong way, in case you were wondering, is to not study and then freak out in an empty classroom the morning before your hardest final of the semester. I learned to value my brain — yes, I can do trigonometry. Do I like it? Definitely not. But I am more than capable of doing it, if I put my mind to it.
I didn’t hate high school. Unpopular opinion: I love Central, and I’m actually unbelievably proud to be a Maroon. When I look at the weird, bomb-shelter/jail-esque building, I see my adolescence. I see my transition from childhood to adulthood, and I’m filled with gratefulness and respect. Central built me, and for that I am forever thankful.