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When yearbooks contain mistakes rather than memories

Georgia Archives selling books

As a former high school yearbook editor, a few apologies are in order.

First, to my best friend Nancy, I apologize for describing you as “wacky but wonderful.”

To my reserved classmate Elizabeth who occasionally loosed an unexpected verbal grenade, I regret the “Silent but deadly” caption under your photo that so upset your saintly mother.

I’ve learned a lot since my stint as the literary editor of my high school yearbook — overseeing all the writing and, most importantly, the mini profiles under senior photos. I also later advised a community college yearbook staff and judged yearbook contests.

The No. 1 lesson that ought to be drummed into every yearbook staff, from middle school to college: It’s not about you.

The yearbook is not a personal photo album. There shouldn’t be dozens of candid photos of the yearbook staff, their best pals and their significant others, particularly not full-page shots in superhero costumes. In a contest, I came across what had to be the most narcissistic yearbook of all time;  the editor devoted a page to herself with a glossy glamour shot and quotes from teachers about why she was such a terrific student.

Don’t be witty or funny or catty at someone else’s expense. Imagine your classmates pulling out their yearbooks 20 years later to show their kids. They ought to be proud to do so, not embarrassed.

That may not be the case for Missouri graduating senior Raigan Mastain, who discovered that a fellow yearbook staff member had changed her last name to “masturbate” in the yearbook. (Student Kaitlyn Booth could now face felony charges of first-degree property damage for her “joke.”)

To Raigan’s immense credit, her reaction was far more mature than the prank, telling reporters, “When you’re in high school, you do stuff that is not necessarily the smartest, and this was an example of that.”

Here is another example, closer to home. Dylan Worthen, a freshman at South Paulding High School, found that someone inserted the word “freak” under his yearbook photo with the school band.

Dylan’s mother is rightfully outraged at the comment, although it’s unlikely the high school will comply with her request to have all 900 yearbooks reprinted. So far, the person responsible hasn’t been identified.

Some slights are unintentional. A college yearbook editor planned to find out a name and replace what she had temporarily written under the photo, “Random Asian student.” But she forgot.

Teachers who oversee yearbooks understand that proofreading is necessary, but blame time constraints for errors.

There are ways to reduce disasters and improve representation. Let students write their own descriptions and provide their own photos. As proven by Facebook and Instagram, this generation has no lack of “selfies.” It would have been far easier to allow my senior classmates to pen their own personal monographs under their class photos rather than leave it up to me to compose their stories.

And graduating students ought to be able to see at least one photo of themselves in their yearbooks besides their senior photo. Even at my small local high school where there is no excuse for overlooking kids, I have friends whose seniors only appeared in the formal photos — and sometimes with their names misspelled.

Sister Margaret made clear to our yearbook staff that students had to appear in the yearbook with similar frequency. If you were in the photos for student government, band and debate, you couldn’t also be featured in dozens of candid shots.

In advising yearbook staffs, I found students enjoyed the designing and creating, but hated the proofreading and editing. But those tasks are critical. Spelling someone name’s wrong or running Alexa Smith’s photo over Alex Smith's name ruins the yearbook.

My own yearbook made mistakes. In an attempt to be artistic, we used illustrations for clubs rather than photos of students. So, the Comedy and Tragedy masks appear on the drama club page rather than photos of student performances. I can find thousands of images of those masks on Google, but I can’t find photos of the 11th grade cast of “Enter Laughing.”

We didn't understand at age 17 that there would be a time when we would want to see those photos and remember those faces.

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