Getting the stories

Alexandra Chertok, Executive Opinions Editor

For most of high school, I dreamed of having an amazing ending to my last cross country season in which I ran my best race ever at the last meet and capped off my perfectly ordinary cross country career with a perfect fairy-tale ending.

I knew it wasn’t realistic, but I still hoped that my last race would be somehow more significant than all the others. Instead, it snowed a few days before sectionals, the course turned into a giant mud pit and my goal turned from miraculously running my best time to trying not to slip and fall flat on my face. When I stood at the finish line drenched in mud, hugging my teammates and trying not to cry, I realized how much my very last race was like every other one I ran, how something that meant so much to me seemed so utterly ordinary. 

But I also realized that what made cross country — and high school — different for me, what makes every person’s experience so different in the same four years at the same school, are the stories that happen throughout.

“Get stories” is a seemingly simple piece of advice given to journalists. When interviewing other students for news articles, a few basic questions can get the facts needed. But people really start to open up when they are asked questions that lead them to talk about a specific moment, and those moments are what make articles more interesting. I learned through Torch that reporting is really about getting people’s stories. 

And, I’ve come to realize, so is life. 

When I look back, nothing particularly extraordinary happened to me in high school. Like most people, I never set any records or published research. I never even went to a school dance or a football game — events that might seem essential to one’s high school experience. 

But I can tell you the story of the time when my cross country team climbed on top of the bus after a meet for a picture. The time we won a meet and the time we finished last. Those nights when I turned off my lights at 11:59 p.m. because I was not going to break my goal of never staying up past midnight to do homework. The story of when my track relay team camped out next to the heater inside a random high school because it was hailing during a meet and we did not want to warm up for our event in 20 minutes. The way there was a buzz in the air during Torch press nights which was the feeling of creating something, the feeling of being part of something bigger.

There’s no way to write down the feeling of joy, but I can tell you about the way the sunlight streamed through the glass by the spiral staircase at a perfect angle on an ordinary Thursday afternoon in January. You can’t capture the feeling of belonging in a picture, but I can tell you the story about that time our team sat in a circle on the grass on an unusually cool Saturday morning in September after a good race and the way it felt like family. 

I never had any big moments of realization in high school as I had imagined, never experienced any big events or perfect endings that suddenly transformed me as a person. But through all the seemingly insignificant events, through all the little stories, I somehow managed to change from just the quiet freshman to someone who is not afraid to blast music to cheer everyone up during track, someone who helped organize events for cross country and became more confident in making decisions on Torch.

So I think I can say that throughout high school I’ve gotten the stories, both good and bad. Or maybe I should say that the stories got me.