Every city boasts a high school that inspires fear among those who have never walked its halls.
Trust me on this one. I’m a graduate of Denver South High, and my survival each weekday shocked friends from far-flung suburbs. These overly pampered types believed all South students to be beastly criminals. Ever brawling. Never studying.
Four years ago, Trinity Lewis heard such attacks directed at Mitchell High. She was an eighth-grader at North Middle, and she was choosing Mitchell or Palmer. Everyone, including a vocal North teacher, voted for Palmer.
This fact cast the deciding vote: She could ride the school bus to Mitchell.
“I was actually scared to come here,” Lewis says.
She laughs, and it’s a laugh I know well. It’s the laugh of “scary” city school student who understands the fear is a phony vapor. She sits in Mitchell’s impressively spotless, quiet library and talks of a four-year adventure.
The adventure ends at graduation May 21, when the once-reluctant Mitchell student will sing a solo rendition of the national anthem and later walk across the stage at Broadmoor World Arena as Mitchell’s valedictorian.
As she heads toward her final days, she remembers her first days at Mitchell.
“Immediately, I was so surprised about the way the school is,” she says. “It has this awful, awful reputation that you can’t stop hearing about, but then you get here and it’s one of the most positive places I’ve ever been.
“The teachers are fantastic. The students are a family. It’s such a fantastic learning environment. I came here and it was immediate acceptance. I’ve made friends. I’ve been involved in a lot. I feel really at home here.”
Her sophomore year, the family moved to the Widefield/Security area, and her parents offered a choice. She could enroll at a school near home, or she could drive 30 minutes to Mitchell.
She didn’t hesitate. She had found her ideal high school, and she wasn’t leaving.
Of course, she’s studied diligently the past four years, but she declines to weep over a B. (Three B’s at Mitchell have invaded her legion of A’s.)
Natalie Real serves as a counselor for Mitchell’s Class of 2019. She marvels at Trinity’s determination and maturity.
“She’s consistently not competing with other people,” Real says. “She’s competing with herself. And that has allowed her to move forward and reach higher and achieve more than when you’re competing with the next guy.”
It also allows her to relax. Trinity is, as she sits in the library, fresh off her final in Advanced Placement calculus.
“It might have gone OK,” she says in a flat voice. “It might have gone bad. I might get an A. I might get B. It’s out of your hands sometimes, and you have to accept that. Sometimes your best is the only thing you can do. You’re not always going to be the best at everything, and I’m trying to accept that.”
Don’t worry. She’s found time for abundant fun, too. She’s deeply involved in Mitchell’s theater program, and she adores acting, which allows her to escape self and transform to someone else for a few hours. She will soon enroll in the University of Northern Colorado’s theater department.
At Mitchell, she played Helen in a rethinking of the bloody horror movie classic “Night of the Living Dead.” She ended the play as a zombie turned into a zombie by a zombie daughter.
She played Miss Sandra in “All Shook Up,” a play based on 1950s Elvis Presley mania. “I was so excited,” she says. “I got to play a powerhouse of a female. She was crazy confident and sexy.”
And, this school year, she played Sophie in “Mama Mia,” a young woman searching, singing all the way, for her father.
The ride is almost done, and Trinity knows it. Mitchell has been home for four years. She’s about to embark on a life filled with new homes.
“I like to think of high school as your favorite pair of jeans, you know,” she says. “You love them. They make you look great. They make you feel great. You’re confident in them, but you’ve outgrown them and you’ve got to get new jeans. That’s kind of how I’ve been thinking about it.”
She takes a long look around the library. She only has a few looks left.
“I do,” she says softly, “love this place.”