A Chicagoan’s Letter to Chicago

Letters

Today marks my one month “move-iversary” to Chicago.

As in, one month ago, I unloaded all of my books and tchotchkes and ate more pizza than my body could handle to call Chicago “home.”

Or whatever “home” really means these days. 

I have been thinking a lot about what this means and how to celebrate this– one month of making new friends! One month of attempting to understand public trans! One month of reading and talking and listening and reading some more!

But this has also made me acutely aware of how much work and understanding I still need to do to really–truly– call Chicago home.

Made me realize how much of this city I don’t know, don’t understand.

So I texted my friend Rachel, a native Chicagoan and perhaps the biggest fan of the city I know:

“Where is your place in Chicago? Can you take me there? Would you be willing to share why this place matters to you?”

My hope is that by asking people who are from here, who call Chicago home, where their places are in the city, I can begin to weave a better understanding of what calling Chicago “home” means.

So I present Rachel’s letter to the place in Chicago that has transformed and challenged her the most: Lane Tech High School.

***

“Four thousand students?!”

That’s usually the reaction I get when I tell people the size of my high school. In September 2008, my 4’11” less-than-100 pounds, innocent yet curious self walked into the ginormous red brick building in a sea of a thousand other awkward 14 year-olds, and an ocean of three thousand other teenagers.

Over the next four years, I endlessly walked up and down four flights of stairs everyday, ate lunch with friends outside until the Chicago cold was more unbearable than the sticky and smelly cafeteria, cared too much about grades and testing, connected with people from all over the city and the world, faced the pain of anti-Semitism for the first time, and met my best friend in the universe.

At the time, I hated being in high school. I didn’t feel like Lane was the right place for me; I felt culturally disconnected from many of my peers. I hated the stringency of test-taking and AP classes. I envied my friends who attended well-funded suburban high schools where they didn’t have to deal with CPS bureaucracy, or explain Jewish holidays all the time, and could get to all of their friends’ houses in under 10 minutes.

Like many experiences in life, Lane was much easier to wholeheartedly appreciate once I left. In college and beyond, I’ve realized that Lane gave me an education that no other high school could have provided me: I learned the geography of nearly the entire north side of Chicago, how to self advocate, the beginning of recognizing my race, class, and educational privilege, and how to survive while waiting for the bus in frigid weather.

Now, when I meet Lane students and alumni, I glow with the same excitement I feel when I meet people connected to Goucher (my college). Most people I know can only say that about their college. I love when I walk down the street and see someone wearing a Lane sweatshirt. I love when I’m on the bus and see Lane kids and can chat with them. I love that I feel like I’m speaking a secret language, sometimes with people I hardly know, when I talk to students and alumni about what letter doors and stairwells we walked through. I’m grateful to be proud of my high school.

Current students, know that what you learn outside of the classroom at Lane will blow your mind more than anything you learn in the classroom. Don’t get tied up over finishing your math homework or even what score you get on an AP Exam. None of that matters in the real world. Hold onto your best friends and savor your moments in Chicago before your next steps.

Love,

Rachel B.

Class of 2012

P.S. Lane, please change your mascot from the Indian to the Warrior. It is racist and offensive to indigenous people! You must do better.

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