As Balkanized as this city can sometimes seem, there’s one thing all Cincinnatians can agree on: where you went to high school is a big deal. Why this is I don’t know but I’ve got my theories. Theory #1: It helps us figure out who we are. Theory #2: It helps us figure out who we aren’t. Theory #3: For those who have never left Cincinnati, it’s a way of keeping the rest of the world—with all its adventure and intrigue, messiness and bother—at a distance. If you define yourself by where you went to high school, and who you went there with, and maintain a close orbit, it can provide a design for living. Then again, so does being trapped in amber.
But those are just theories. For a lot of people, being asked where you went to high school is merely an odd, amusing local custom, much like the deeply ingrained Cincinnati-ism “Please?” used to be. You’re not quite sure what it means, or why you’re being asked it, but you sense it holds the key to something. William Powell has a wonderful time exploring this phenomenon in “The Question,” which kicks off our special cover package this month. (Yep, that’s right, we feel the psychic grip high school has on this town is so important we’ve devoted an entire issue to it. Sound crazy? Well then, you probably didn’t go to high school here.) Bill talked to a number of local grads while he was reporting, and elicited thoughtful responses on the meaning behind the question—everything from “You’re announcing your tribe” to “Who gives a crap?” Clearly, a lot of people do.
We went a little wild after that. Linda Vaccariello, our executive editor, did a marvelous job conceiving what amounts to a guided tour of Cincinnati’s collective consciousness. We’ve got a full page of actual yearbook photos of famous natives (guess who?). A fascinatingly intricate chart that breaks down which movers-and-shakers went where—and by extension, which schools generate the most power. An elegant photo essay by Ryan Kurtz documents some monumental high school haunts (the Withrow clock tower, the Pit at Elder, St. Xavier’s natatorium…). Amanda Boyd Walters organized the first-ever mascot cage match bracket (beware the mighty Fighting Owl). Some touching recollections of state championships won and good friends lost. Five highly educational interviews with a lunch lady, school nurse, guidance counselor, coach, and a married couple who taught English for 73 years (combined). And because it wouldn’t be a true exploration if we didn’t visit the dark side, a heartbreaking piece by Julie Irwin Zimmerman about the day Clay Shrout killed his family and then held his math class hostage at Ryle High in Boone County.
If living in Cincinnati is sometimes a test, then we hope this issue provides some answers.