The student news website of Omaha Central High School

The Register

The student news website of Omaha Central High School

The Register

The student news website of Omaha Central High School

The Register

How Central High changed my life

Photo courtesy of Nick Bauer

By the time you read this column, I will no longer be a Central student. When your eyes graze this column, dear reader, I may be a starry-eyed recent graduate, a weary middle-aged cynic, or a kind-hearted old woman reminiscing about her yesteryears. Regardless, one thing remains true: If I walk these age-old halls again, I will do so as a stranger to the school I once called home.  

I anticipate my high school experience will end in much the same way it began: not with a bang, but with a whimper. I spent my first day as a high schooler confined to my basement, transfixed by the iPad, which was my only means of being educated amid the pandemic sweeping the world.  

In subsequent years, we avoided speaking about this time for fear of dredging up the trauma that was inflicted on us all by our social isolation. As much as we would prefer to forget those early months of high school, for the class of 2024, being a freshman meant desperately trying to summon the courage to unmute yourself during a Teams meeting.  

I was among the first cohort of freshmen to return to school in the second quarter of that ill-fated school year. All throughout my time at Central, I heard stories about a school that my classmates and I never experienced. Before the pandemic, students were friendlier, the teachers were livelier, the classes were harder, the parties were louder, and the issues plaguing Central were far less pressing. I am inclined to believe that the tales I heard were embellished, but they nevertheless left me mourning the place that people swore Central once was. 

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By junior year, we settled into some sort of normalcy. A masked teacher or student became a rare sight in the hallways, but none of us were ever quite the same.  

I learned quickly, as we all must, that Central High School is a tangled web of contradictions. It is a historic institution coping with the consequences of rapid technological change, a downtown high that prides itself on its diversity yet perpetuates racial and economic disparities in its academics, a grand beauty whose secrets are never quite revealed and dreams never quite realized.  

At a high school the size of Central, personal success is often measured by the speed at which one finds their niche. The most consequential decision I made in high school was enrolling in a journalism class my freshman year.  

This introductory course ignited an immoderate passion for the craft I would become known for and impelled me to join The Register staff as a sophomore. 

In room 029, I attempted to master the understated art of journalism. I engineered the most gripping news leads, composed the most revealing interview questions, and pursued the most ambitious investigations. Stories I have written for The Register have been taught in Creighton University courses, debated at OPS school board meetings, and read on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature.  

Throughout my three years on this paper’s staff, my commitment to writing the most impactful journalism possible at times amounted to an unhealthy obsession. Journalism Adviser Brody Hilgenkamp had to pull me aside as a junior to ask if my “C” in Honors Chemistry was due to the sheer number of hours I spent hunched over a computer monitor in his classroom. 

As a high schooler, I lived by and for journalism. It was only during my senior year that I made an honest attempt to balance my responsibilities and step away from the newspaper when I felt my role there consuming my life.  

I will soon be studying journalism as a college student in the hopes of turning my heartfelt passion into a lifelong pursuit. I will always owe a debt of gratitude to Central and The Register for introducing me to the Fourth Estate.  

My final week at Central has been marked by my adamant refusal to accept that I will leave this place for good in a matter of days. I have caught myself staring at a clock mounted on a classroom wall more than once, thinking about how my remaining time here is being whittled away before my eyes, but not truly comprehending the enormity of that looming change.  

Graduation will be an afterthought for me. I cannot imagine any ceremony could gift me closure after all I have experienced these past four years. There will be no grand finale, no moment of catharsis, no third act in this consequential chapter of our lives. One day, we seniors will file obediently into our classrooms, and the next, we will be gone, leaving some part of ourselves behind here.  

The meaning of these years and the importance of all that was said and done here will not be settled when we saunter across the stage in Baxter Arena. Instead, its significance will be carefully constructed in retrospect by each graduate. Many of us will look back on our high school years with something less than undiluted fondness, bitterly recalling our teenage sorrows. For many others, each day that passes after graduation will endow them with a rosier view of their high school years as they wistfully long for times past.  

I hope I will not surrender my memories of Central to nostalgia or anguish but instead recall these years as the mercurial, whirlwind coming-of-age that it was. After all of the joys and woes, the trials and triumphs, I know that these four years have shaped me into the woman I am today. I set off now as one more young adult whose path in life has been irrevocably changed by my experience as a Central High student.  

As for the school I leave behind, I fear its future is as uncertain as my own. Central is a monument from a bygone era, the kind of populous downtown high school that was converted into luxury apartments in every other American city decades ago. It has only withstood the test of time because of the determination of all those who have walked wonderstruck through its halls to uphold the school’s legacy.  

In the past four years, rising student poverty, a worsening teacher shortage, the spread of violence and drug use, and a malevolent political climate surrounding public education in Nebraska have coalesced into a tidal wave of new headaches for the school. 

To protect this imperfect, extraordinary institution, the students, teachers and graduates of this school must fight more fiercely than ever for the next generation’s right to be educated. The fate of Central High School rests in our hands. 

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About the Contributor
Jane McGill
Jane McGill, Staff Writer

Hello Register readers! I am Jane McGill, and this is my third and final year at The Register. I served as Executive Editor, editing The Register’s news reporting and supervising staff writers, for first semester before returning to work in investigative journalism as a staff writer for the remainder of the school year. 

I joined The Register as a staff writer my sophomore year, after taking Intro to Journalism as a freshman. As a junior, I edited the paper’s arts and cultural coverage. I am best known for my investigative reporting into issues affecting students at Central and across the Omaha metro area. My investigations have shed light on the teacher shortage at Central, given a voice to LGBTQ+ students suffering discrimination in Omaha’s Catholic schools, and exposed racial and socioeconomic disparities in Central’s advanced classes. Stories I have written for The Register have been taught in university courses, discussed at OPS school board meetings, and read on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature.  

For my investigation into the historic exodus of teachers from Central during the 2021-2022 school year, I won the Student Journalist Impact Award. I am the 2023 Nebraska State Champion in Newspaper Newswriting. Over the summer, I covered climate change and sustainability in Omaha as Editorial Intern for The Reader. When not writing stories or doing homework, I can be found re-reading The Bell Jar or watching Stanley Kubrick movies. I was voted most likely to be hit by a city bus by the Register staff.  

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    Jillian StewartMay 2, 2024 at 2:52 pm

    Gave me chills