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Surreal. That’s the only word I can find to describe my emotions that day. It’s one thing if you see a disaster hit somewhere else and you think, “Oh, those poor people”.
But it didn’t happen somewhere else. It happened in the place where I used to sit in the hallway before class, feverishly trying to finish an assignment. It happened in the place where my friends and I would laugh and joke in the cafeteria during our lunch period. It happened in the place where I stayed countless hours in the computer lab tirelessly working on the school newspaper. It happened where I graduated, where I cried as I closed that chapter of my life.
When a natural gas explosion and building collapse occurred at my high school, Minnehaha Academy, on August 2, I was driving to work. I heard the announcement on Minnesota Public Radio, my heart dropped. Pain racked my chest. I had to pull over to catch my breath. I had visited the school just the week before, discussing newspaper redesign for The Metropolitan with my former journalism advisor.
The explosion occurred in the area where my senior locker would have been. I kept thinking: It could have just as easily been me had the circumstances been different.
Tragically, two staff members died. I didn’t know the victims of the accident personally, but they were a part of my Minnehaha family. I couldn’t help but grieve for them and the community.
But the hugeness of the tragedy didn’t really hit me until a few weeks after it happened. Seniors this year wouldn’t get to practice walking across the same stage as I did. Freshmen wouldn’t get lost in the maze of hallways as I did. Faculty will never be the same without Ruth Berg and John Carlson.
As much as I struggled in high school, Minnehaha was the best place for me to be. I grappled with mental illness during my junior and senior years, but I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive community. My counselors, teachers and peers assured me that I was successful even if I felt quite the opposite. They lifted me up.
Minnehaha shaped who I am today. I will be forever grateful for the support network that I had — and continue to have as an alumna.
I took it for granted that Minnehaha would stay the same when I closed my locker for the last time. I thought I would leave my high school education behind me, move on and never look back on those difficult years.
In the wake of this heartbreaking event, I finally came to the realization that Minnehaha will always be a part of me. I will always be a Minnehaha Redhawk. And hawks soar together.