On a breezy February 23rd, I hopped off the subway at the Olney Transportation Center, and was immediately swallowed into a sea of energetic students clad in the distinctive Central High School hoodies of grey, burgundy, and gold. I followed the mass of urban Lancers on to the outside pavement towards their beckoning mecca.
Central High School is a mighty ‘E’ shaped structure that sits upon a formidable hill. The pilgrimage evokes a strong ‘Hogwarts-esque’ fantasy. In fact, I am most certain that if Hogwarts, in its diversity and gifted student body were to be encompassed in real life halls of academia, those halls would belong to Central High School.
The school has a long and interesting history of academic excellence, artistic cultivation, impressive alumni, and national prestige. Awarded a 2011 National Blue Ribbon, Central High School goes above and beyond when ensuring students in the Philadelphia area receive the best education to become the very best professionals. As one of the most culturally diverse schools in Philly (or even nationally), the Central experience is one heavily based on not only the acceptance of cultural diversity but the everyday celebration of it.
Once I entered the school’s main hallway, I was greeted with explosions of color, delicious scents of a wide variety of ethnic food, phrases of empowerment, and infectious air of excitement. I was there to witness the 15th annual International Day and Multicultural Showcase, an annual event that has become a Central High School hallmark. International Day includes decorated hallways, native dress, an international café, guest speakers, a bazaar, and a multicultural showcase that serves as an exhibition of cultural performances that reflects the school’s richly diverse community.
The forty-six professional guest speakers focused on a wide array of global topics which complimented the student presentations harmoniously. The multicultural performances were amazing to watch, there was an impressive amount of professionalism, well executed techniques, and dashes of humor everywhere. The student audience of seniors (271) made the whole affair a dialogue of dance and diversity.
There were performances by AACAC: Appalachian-American Cultural Awareness Club, AASU: African American Student Union, AKA: Apsara Khmer Association, AlbaSoul: Albanian Student Cultural Club, ASA: Asian Student Association, Belly Dancing Association, IPCO: Indian Pakistani Cultural Organization, KSA: Korean Student Union, Pacific: People at Central Illustrating Filipno’s Interesting Culture, SALSA/ASPIRA: Spanish and Latino Student Association, and SAO: Southeast Asian Organization. These are but a few of all the clubs and associations at Central High School, the full list is quite extensive and fantastically quirky (I’m looking at you Central Jugglers).
It is not enough to say that the hallways were merely “decorated by ethic themes”; it felt more like the school was brought to life by a festival of sharing. The diverse ethnic themes did not create a sense of separatism but a strong sense of pride in the depth of culture presented by fellow classmates. I watched several exchanges of “oohs and ahhs” and even a few jovial “this jawn is amazing!” within each hallway, respectively. The school was truly filled with a sincere mood of togetherness and a clear familial bond that stretched beyond color, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and even the dreaded grade level.
On this day the Central population was exploring and discovering new elements of different lives within each hallway and they were enjoying it. On several instances, I saw young people stop their rushing to class to fix fallen props with genuine care in hallways that were not their personal ethnicity. These small actions speak volumes of goodwill and the effects of attending such a culturally diverse school. This spirit of goodwill that is just a natural essence of the student body is what truly makes this school and the city of Philadelphia the incredible places they are.