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Inside Out

The door before ... and after

Jeanne Sager
Posted 4/23/24

When I’d enter the side door of the school, I had two choices.  

I could turn right immediately, head up the stairs and venture past the gym first, then the cafeteria before making …

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Inside Out

The door before ... and after


When I’d enter the side door of the school, I had two choices. 

I could turn right immediately, head up the stairs and venture past the gym first, then the cafeteria before making the turn that would take me down the long hall lined with elementary classrooms. 

If I opted to take the left, I’d pass the band room first, then the girls locker room and the boiler room, past the kindergartners and hook a right up a hallway lined with yet more classrooms, many occupied by my fellow high schoolers. Eventually I’d have to head up a set of stairs to that same hallway lined with elementary classrooms. 

The destination was always the same — the main office of my K-12 school, where each morning of my senior year, I would sign my name on a sheet of paper and add my time of arrival. 

The walk would take me at least two minutes, maybe longer if I stopped to chat with a teacher or another student. 

I made that walk from September of my senior year of high school until late April. 

That’s when it all changed. 

It was April 20, 1999 when two boys my age entered a high school 1,700 miles away from my own and began shooting. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered 12 students and 1 teacher that day, injuring dozens more. 

That week, that side door would be locked during the school day, for the first time I could remember in the 12 years I spent in that building — stretching all the way from kindergarten through senior year. 

Before that, I’d never felt unsafe in the school, not in any measurable way.

Before that,  I’d never thought it strange that I could enter the school building without anyone knowing, that I could spend at least two minutes moving through the building, walking past classroom after classroom, before the main office was alerted to my presence. 

Truth be told, there were times I made that walk and delayed arrival at my destination far longer than a few minutes, opting instead to slip off to a room designated for seniors like me, a room where I might take a nap or chat with my classmates for the length of an entire class period. 

I was a good kid, a student with top grades and a clean disciplinary record, but let’s face it — I was still a teenager. 

It was as a teenager that I saw that door as nothing more than a convenience — the best entrance to use when you were being dropped off by your parents before the spring concert and needed to hustle to the chorus room, the easiest way to cut down the walk from the student parking lot to the main office for my post work study daily sign-in. 

Until everything changed. 

Watching national news honor the 25th anniversary of the Columbine High School tragedy this weekend, it occured to me — not for the first time — how time serves to shape your perspective. 

Something changed in my teenage consciousness during my senior year of high school, forever shaping the way I would look at what it means to be safe inside a school building. The way I looked at that door, the way I looked at that long walk to the main office, they both changed. 

But for all those who had graduated from that same K-12 building before me — who’d made middle-of-the-day runs out to the student parking lot and back through that door or who’d used it to enter when they’d been dropped off after an early morning doctor’s appointment — nothing had changed. 

That door, that walk were frozen in time, along with their sense of safety within the school building. 

As we ponder the idea that 25 years have passed since what was then the worst mass school shooting in American history and we are still seeing these sorts of tragedies repeated in places across the country, I have a challenge for those who graduated from high school in the time that came before my senior year.

If you think we don’t need drastic change to fix school shootings in America, have you examined your own side doors, your own walks, your own sense of safety within a school building? Are you, perhaps, still operating from consciousness that’s frozen in time? 


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