Why I Yearbook

As most of you know, I’m a yearbook adviser. It’s definitely not the easiest job in the world. There are always going to be two main worries: 1) that you’ll never be able to pay the bill; and 2) that nobody will like the yearbook (and nobody will buy it, and you won’t be able to pay the bill). Certainly the yearbook has become less of a priority for many students, even as my journalism students strive to make a product that everyone should cherish.

A couple of months ago, Herff Jones sent out information about a contest called Power of a Yearbook. They were seeking schools that had done a community service page and were willing to share the page. A panel of judges would evaluate the entries and the winning school would be announced in May.

I never did hear anything about who won the contest (apparently not us), but I saw some really great entries. The one that I was most drawn to, because of the emotion that it evoked, was one about the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. The school that submitted it was an Aurora school, so the story was written on a very personal level.

I came across this picture recently of my first yearbook editor, Rikki, and the cover of my first yearbook. This photo was probably taken around October of 1998.

I came across this picture recently of my first yearbook editor, Rikki, and the cover of my first yearbook. This photo was probably taken around October of 1998.

It had been a long time since a yearbook had given me a lump in my throat. Prior to seeing that Aurora page, it had been years. I had attended a workshop where a young man was talking about how the yearbook was a history book. As he held the yearbook from the Manzanar Japanese internment camp, he went on to explain how important it had been that those young people had been permitted to document their world. His voice cracked as her showed us his aunt’s photo in those pages.

Tonight (June 8, 2013), I had the opportunity to see how a yearbook that my students and I produced had made a difference in someone’s life.

In my 18 years of teaching, I would estimate by now I have taught at least 2,000 students. Some I will never forget because they were just that good. (Others I can’t block out because they were just that bad, but it’s true that times heals all wounds so I rarely dwell on these). In all seriousness, a student does not have to be super special to be memorable, and some relatively average students tend to be the ones who make a lasting impression.

But tonight belonged to Eva Bellon, a 2004 DHS grad who spent just one year, her senior year, in my journalism class and made a lasting impression for several reasons. First, she was the niece of one of my best friends, Lisa. Second, she was great at selling ads (a big plus). And third, because she was just a great young lady all around, academically focused and super-involved in school.

When Eva Bellon told you she was going to do something, she was going to do it. She told her teachers she was going to become a doctor. And here I was tonight, at a party with her huge family, celebrating her degree in medicine. As if it was not enough just to succeed against the odds to complete med school, Eva had also survived a near death experience in her first year. Her tenacity is commendable.

It is tough to describe how proud of her I am. I know I had very little to do with her success, but I still am over the moon that she was able to succeed at such a huge challenge and under adverse circumstances. At the start of the party tonight, her mom Jeanie told a sweet story about a 4th of July long ago and how Eva had always cared for others. And then Eva’s grandmother, Lela Mae Evers, got up and spoke.

Lela Mae Evers has always loved to tell stories. And for as long as I have known her (since the 1980s), I have always loved to hear these stories. Dunnellon has a rich history, and I absolutely love to hear about that history. Tonight I was treated to stories about how her son and his friend had gone to dig for old bottles in the woods and had found old tokens that had been used for money in the Boomtown Days of Dunnellon. The boys thought they had discovered gold treasure. She also told me about how she has become a cheerleader along with a handful of other grads from the 1940s at the annual “old school” reunion in Dunnellon. Back in the 40s, spirited Dunnellon students cheered on a 6 man football team. They remembered all the old fights songs.

Although she is getting older, Lela Mae Evers is a self proclaimed storyteller, but she told me tonight that I’m the one who really knows how to put things down on paper. And this is where the story involves the 2005 Dunnellon High School yearbook.

There was not any real reason we decided to call the 2005 yearbook “Reflections of the Past, Faces of the Future” except that we wanted to have this really cool mirror that reflected the “20” into an “05” and we just could not resist the fact that when you looked straight into the mirror you would see yourself, the “face of the future.”

When I saw that Evers had the 2005 yearbook at Eva’s party, I was perplexed at first because Eva had graduated in 2004. Then I remembered that because of the theme we had done a “past” section in that book where we had created a section on Dunnellon history, decade-by-decade. Although my students quickly tired of researching, I had a really great time researching for the history section, and I solicited information from Dunnellon old-timers. Evers was the first to respond, providing me with pictures, stories and other valuable items.

How about that? We had created a 16-page section of a yearbook with the help of Lela Mae Evers, about 60 years after Evers had graduated from Dunnellon, and she was so proud of it that she had brought it to her granddaughter’s graduation party. What’s more, she had bookmarked the pages where she had contributed. And what made that yearbook even more valuable was that Eva was in that yearbook too, on the spring page because she had been named prom queen the spring before, and Evers’ grandson was also in the book, selling FFA peanuts at a football game. Evers had these pages marked as well. We had invited the alumni to meet us and tell their stories at the Homecoming football game that fall, and Evers had her name tag we had made her tucked into the book as well.

Tonight reaffirmed my purpose. As hard as it is to raise the money every year, we have to keep on striving to produce a yearbook that someday will put that lump in someone’s throat. As I reflect on the book we did this year, I can think of a few stories that can evoke that sort of emotion. As we go forward, I hope that we continue to seek out and record more stories that make our yearbook priceless!