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Watch Now: Lincoln High students share time capsule in paper and ink with literary magazine

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Staple-bound books — many sporting red-and-black covers — sit arranged in a loose stack on a table in Deborah McGinn's classroom. The longtime Lincoln High School teacher has brought out the old copies of Scribe, the school's literary magazine, for her English students to look through.

Within the crisp, white pages of the magazines, past Links have left behind a record of their lives in the form of poems and prose, touching on everything from everyday observations to historical flashpoints: The Great Depression, war, the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Time capsules in paper and ink.

Ted Sorensen, the speech writer for President John F. Kennedy, was even an editor of Scribe at one point in time, a fact he proudly shared during one of his last visits to his alma mater.

Scribe

Freshman Lina Dvorak talks about her involvement with Scribe on Wednesday at Lincoln High School.

"I just thought it was so cool that we got to see into the minds of these people like us from so long ago — like people that aren't even around anymore — but there is still a part of them eternalized," observed freshman Nina Brozovic.

Now, a new generation of students is preparing to publish the latest iteration in the literary magazine's storied canon for future Links to ponder.

This time capturing another moment in history: a pandemic. 

The theme came to McGinn just as word of a mysterious illness caused by a novel coronavirus crept into the headlines. The English teacher had recently returned as adviser for the magazine, a role she had held for more than two decades before taking some time off to coach the school's slam poetry team to three state championships.

"I never really intended on returning to Scribe, but nobody picked it up (after the pandemic)," McGinn said. "I just couldn't stand to let it go idle."

Scribe

The 1930 edition of Scribe, a literary magazine published by Lincoln High School students.

So she came back with an idea: Why not put together one volume under the wide umbrella of life in the age of COVID-19?

But it would be more than just writing about the coronavirus and masks, Zoom learning and social distancing, she said. It would be about what teens were already thinking and writing about during that time.

Love and death. Making friends and losing wisdom teeth. The awkwardness of high school and the struggle of fitting in. Social justice and Black Lives Matter.

"I just said, 'We've got to capitalize on this. We've got to do a Scribe," said McGinn, who has taught at Lincoln High since the ’80s. "Just like the Great Depression was a strange time of survival and loss, the era of the Vietnam War and the wartimes in general, it really felt like there was urgency to combine these years and have a product."

Students have been submitting their work — memoirs, poems, short stories, reflections, photos — in hopes of making the final manuscript, which will undergo editing soon before heading off to Goldenrod Printing in the next couple of weeks.

Scribe

English teacher Deborah McGinn talks about Scribe at Lincoln High School on Wednesday.

Often, they submit their pieces at the urging of McGinn, who teaches creative writing and freshman honors English courses.

"I think one of the coolest things about Scribe is that most people don't even intend to submit their work," said freshman Lina Dvorak. "It's kind of a niche thing. But that makes the writing all that more authentic, because it's for catharsis, it's for expression. There are so many different reasons why you write, but it's never for recognition, the 'I want to be all fancy and get published.' It's just kind of the pure essence of writing that differs from person to person."

Like many of her peers, freshman Emerson Mikkelsen got into Scribe by accident.

McGinn was trying to take a cover photo for the latest edition — of students' hands outstretched, clutching notebook paper scribbled with words — using her iPhone, but it wasn't producing the result she wanted.

"So she asked me if I could come in with my camera (McGinn interjects: 'She has a great camera') that I got over Christmas, because I started getting into photography," Mikkelsen said.

Mikkelsen also submitted some other photos for consideration that tell another story: one of teachers and students navigating the challenges of the pandemic: masks, social distancing and virtual learning.

Junior Camila Gomez took McGinn's creative writing class last year over Zoom. She discovered writing could be a coping mechanism during a period of time when she was trying to come to terms with what was going on in the world.

Scribe

Scribe, Lincoln High School's student literary magazine, has been published since 1930, with some gaps through the years.

"I feel like with Scribe, and especially looking at the legacy it has, it's incredibly valuable to kind of codify these young-adult experiences, feelings, perceptions of the world, to see not only how those have changed over time, how they haven't changed over time," said Gomez.

The stories the students share in their submissions span myriad human emotions and experiences — from the serious to the not-so-serious — during the nearly two years since the pandemic started.

Jared Obidowski writes about how the lyrics in a Tyler, the Creator song helped him better understand friendship.

Maddie Scholl speaks of the horrors and humanity of war.

Shayla Ath writes of love.

Brozovic reflects on getting her wisdom teeth removed.

Dvorak looks back on her summer vacation.

Gomez dazzles with incisive verse in her poem "Sharpen Me Softly."

Trinity Goodwin reflects on racial identity and self-validation.

In her piece, "Why We Need a Voice and Scribe," Anna Nesmith sums up the collective feelings of her classmates well.

"It’s historical," Nesmith said. "There is no doubt about that. People everywhere are feeling extreme emotions. We stayed at home for months. Everything shut down. We had mass injustice. Our congress crumbled. For me personally, my mental health declined during the quarantine. I had been trapped inside. Not only literally, but also in my head."

Nesmith continues: "Our memories. This book could be something major that will be passed down to our future Lincoln High alumnus. Maybe even past that."

Since its first edition in 1930, Scribe has been published annually, albeit with some gaps. There were no editions, for example, from 1944-1948 because of a lack of funding. And when the pandemic came around, Scribe was put on hold again.

But for McGinn and her students, it was important to not let that stop them from creating their own time capsule in paper and ink, like all those past generations of Links did.

"Things that are a very long time ago feel quite current and topical because you realize that you're living through history all the time," said Gomez. "It's something you don't really notice in daily life. Once you've consciously made it into a collection ... you're more cognizant of what people have done in the past when you're doing it for the future." 

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Contact the writer at zhammack@journalstar.com or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @zach_hammack

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K-12 education reporter

Zach Hammack, a 2018 UNL graduate, has always called Lincoln home. He previously worked as a copy editor at the Journal Star and was a reporting intern in 2017. Now, he covers students, teachers and schools as the newspaper’s K-12 reporter.

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