High school is where we first meet and form the adult version of ourselves. We do dumb stuff and smart stuff and tumble into happy and sad surprises and grow and depart for a bigger and better world. Well, let’s make that a maybe on the better part.
The building that houses our high school retains a magic aura for the rest of our lives.
So, what happens to graduates when the high school that holds so many memories gets “repurposed” into something that is more and less than a high school?
We don’t need to travel far to get the answer. Just ask the confused and heartbroken graduates of Wasson High School.
Most mornings, Todd Thompson drives past Wasson on his way to work at Patty Jewett Golf Course. His high school graduated its last class in 2013. The building now functions as Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus.
Every drive by — every single one — is painful for Thompson, Wasson class of 1986.
“I suppose if I lived somewhere out of town and didn’t have to drive by it every day,” Thompson says. “It’s a cut that runs deep for me.”
He sees the parking lot where he laughed with friends. He sees the building where he enjoyed and endured classes. Memories from yesterday flood his 2019 mornings.
“It’s bizarre,” he says. “High school is like superduper important.”
Thompson often is asked where he attended high school. When he answers Wasson, another question follows that bites his heart.
Isn’t that the one they closed?
Thompson never will accept the answer is yes.
“It burns me,” he says. “It just burns me. I don’t want to sound bitter.”
“But I am bitter. I don’t want to be that bitter person, but I am, just because I love my school so much.”
Brandy Porter, Wasson Class of 2004, can relate to Thompson’s suffering.
Porter attended Jefferson Elementary, now closed, and East Middle School, now “repurposed” as Galileo School of Math and Science.
“This is going to sound odd,” Porter says of Wasson’s transformation. “It’s the norm for me.”
Porter lives in Parker, near the Lincoln exit on I-25, and seldom visits the Wasson campus. When she recently walked the halls, it was an overwhelming experience, in good and bad ways.
She searched the trophy case and found the trophy she and her teammates brought home after winning a junior varsity softball tournament. She examined the trophy a long time.
“To see that trophy,” she says. “To see that it’s still there.”
She waits a moment as she thinks back.
“It’s really just a sad thing to think there is no more Wasson High School and no more Thunderbirds.”
Our society, our city and our lives are not ruled by sentiment. Years ago, District 11 officials took a look at city high schools and decided to close Wasson. They closed Wasson even after hearing from alums who offered angry, desperate pleas for their alma mater. Those meetings delivered a wild, ugly clash of sentiment and practicality. Scars remain that will not be healed.
On Thursday, I visited the Wasson campus. The building houses an early college high school, a pathways program that provides workforce options after high school graduation, an online school, two alternative educational opportunity schools, and adult and family education programs.
I saw a bustling, thriving destination.
But I was not looking through disappointed and loving alumni eyes. I did not spend my teen years growing up in those halls.
In 1960, Ta Phillips was the first Wasson student to walk across the stage and transform to graduate. She’s quick to say this is not because of her academic prowess. It’s because of her maiden name, Achord.
Ta spent her first two years at Colorado Springs High School, now Palmer, before traveling to the edge of the Springs to attend Wasson. In the fall of 1959, Wasson was alone. Few houses had been built on what was the extreme north end of the Springs. Phillips grew up in a vastly different version of the Springs.
She and her classmates picked Wasson’s colors and mascot. They were blazingly proud of their curvy, gorgeous high school building, part of a wave of audacious, groovy midcentury Springs structures that soon would include the Air Force Academy’s stunning and daring Cadet Chapel.
Today, Ta lives a few blocks from Cheyenne Mountain High School. She’s 77. She’s seen so much change in her hometown.
“Oh, I’m very nostalgic,” she says of her days at Wasson. “We’re sad that it closed, of course, but time moves on. That building is used for other purposes.”
This is true. Wasson, in its own way, lives, even as brokenhearted alums mourn the death of the Wasson they loved so much.