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Construction crews took down the fences surrounding Thomas Jefferson High School a few days ago, revealing not only a campus still in ruin after October’s tornado, but the high weeds swallowing what used to be the front entrance along Walnut Hill Lane. The scene — overgrown green overtaking broken gray — looked positively post-apocalyptic, a scene from a disaster movie in which nature swallows what humanity has abandoned.

The reveal on Sunday morning was only temporary, a prelude to the coming construction that will salvage bits of the old building to make a new one scheduled to open in two years. Stepping into this small window of opportunity I walked the tattered campus, took some pictures, texted a few former classmates, tweeted some images. Two days later the school’s principal Sandi Massey said she found the pictures hard to look at for too long.

Massey said this as we were sitting in the shade of Northway Church, whose smashed sanctuary, like numerous other homes and businesses near TJ, still awaits demolition seven months after the storm. We’d returned to the scene for as close to a happy occasion as circumstances would allow, a graduation parade around the campus for the TJ seniors who lost their campus in fall and were then denied their commencement by COVID-19.

“I feel pretty good,” Massey said, drenched in sweat, as she sat on the curb to catch her breath and cool off. “But I’m just so sad the kids lost out on so much. No senior event, no field trip, no picnic, no awards.”

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