FEATURE

"I Would Never Want To Go Anywhere Else"

I went to Columbine. And I’m proud of my community.
Photography by Jennifer Warburg

"Jeff, you know that you can go to any high school you want to, right?"

"It's all right, Mom, I would never want to go anywhere else."

I didn't answer the question with hesitation that day, nor have I any day since the shootings.

I have lived in the community since my first day of kindergarten and grown as an average teenager in our not-so-average world through four years of high school.

There are many things the world wonders about Columbine High School, and only so many things I can say.

The five-year anniversary has come and gone. At times, it seemed like a decade had passed; at other times, it seemed like yesterday that I sat huddled in my kitchen with my father, mother and brother as we stared for hours, ironically, at the smallest TV in our house.

Just down the street, the unimaginable had happened; children were running instinctively from school to escape the worst school shooting in American history.

I walked out into my back yard and looked up at the dozen or so helicopters that had been flying in circles for hours just to deliver the picture I watched on the screen inside.

Columbine's students sitting with open book at the school's food court
Rick Bath's history students work together in the school's food court

I didn't understand it then, and I'm not sure I understand it now. But I do know when my mother asked me if I wanted to attend CHS, I answered with a stubborn sense of pride I still feel today.

Columbine. The word carries so much meaning.

But it is more than just a word. It is a majestic flower; it is kids; it is teachers; it is a school; it is a community; it is more than any one of us will ever know.

Teacher chatting with three students
Teacher/sponsor Coe Branch meets with senior members of the school's peer mentoring program.

What it isn't is a synonym for tragedy. For me, the true meaning of "Columbine" has come to represent hope, perseverance, healing, pride, a sense of community and, most of all, love.

We are not what you see on your television, distorted by the many media. We are not a school full of bullies, hate, crime or injustice. We are not animals in cages, we are not a local attraction, and we are not any different than the rest of the world. Except for the way you perceive us.

We are normal high school students, with normal high school lives, normal high school classes and normal high school experiences. We have a sense of community, not only in times of grief but in times of triumph, competition and congratulation.

We will overcome, pull through, triumph, succeed and become better for it.

We are Columbine.

Jeff Wahl, 18, is in his first year at Colorado State University.