I’ve been to many, many yearbook workshops over the past 15 years. Often, a workshop will open with “what is a yearbook?” Sometimes, a workshop will close with a commitment ceremony or something similarly stirring that inspires students to go out there and create the best yearbook they can for their school.
A yearbook is… a record, a public relations tool, a photo book, an educational experience, a reference book…
Author Pat Conroy wrote, “A yearbook is a love letter a school writes to itself.” I carry a tattered and torn copy of these words with me everywhere I go.
There are two things that “a yearbook is” that give me my greatest enjoyment in high school yearbook journalism.
A yearbook is a history book.
When my students are trying to meet deadlines or get a meaningful quote from somebody who does not know what to say, they do not realize right then how important it is that they record a complete and accurate history of the school year. This is only affirmed later when the truck arrives and distribution begins. It makes my heart full when students, seniors especially, hold their new yearbook in their hands and say out loud, “This is the best yearbook I’ve ever seen!”
When my staff hears the first comments students have to say about their yearbooks and when faculty members come up and say to my staff members, “Wow, you have so many stories in here!” it makes me smile and tear up. I get a little lump in my throat. I love seeing my students puff up with pride.
We have captured the year, for better, for worse. To oversee a group of students led by a student editor make the decisions of how to tell these stories is a blessing to me.
A yearbook is magic.
That day when we open the boxes I watch as my staff members get all quiet checking out their pages at first. Then they start exclaiming, “I helped do that page!” and “I had forgotten about that story I wrote!” Those are magic moments.
My yearbook students not only report on things that happen at our school and in our community, they also help make magic happen.
Magic happened when my students arranged a press conference with Santa Claus last December. With the help of our local newspaper editor, they arranged for two kindergarten classes from the elementary school next door to come visit Santa and ask him questions.
To break the ice, my students prepared questions as well. It’s a good thing, because the kindergarteners were too awestruck to say very much! As Santa told us his favorite type of cookie (oatmeal), and how exactly he manages to get to all those houses in one night (magic, of course), there was not a single person in the room who wanted that magical day to end.
We have hundreds of photos from when the kindergarteners each received a toy truck or a doll from Santa, which had been provided by the local police department. Santa read his favorite story, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, and every “kid” had an opportunity to sit on his lap. We were part of that magic, and we all felt it in our hearts.
My high school yearbook is magic to me. I know exactly where I am in it, even if the image is blurry or I am in the background. I remember the canned food drive that my club organized for Thanksgiving. I remember how stressed out I was when we discovered that one of the teachers had broken into another teacher’s room and stolen the cans! How were we going to decide which class won the breakfast? I remember all the back roads my friends and I drove as we delivered the boxes to needy families. There’s a story in the yearbook. Magic is made in every moment that is forever enshrined in the yearbook.
Last year, right before school ended, I sent a yearbook staff member to deliver a yearbook that had been purchased anonymously for a student. The student was so excited to receive it he came to me as soon as he could and asked to know who had given him the book. He said he wanted to thank that person. I told him if he wrote the note I would make sure it got to the right person. Later that day, he came back by to drop off his thank you note. The young man probably had an idea which teacher it was who made the yearbook magic for him, and that magic will remain in his heart forever.The kindergarten students gazed at Santa in wide-eyed wonder.
Sometimes when we are in the middle of deadlines we forget that we are making magic. Then, just when I start to wonder if it’s worth it, along comes another magical moment!