The high school yearbook. Have you dusted yours off and cracked it open lately?
I have. I don’t have a hard copy, sadly. It was lost in a box that never got mailed home from my time living in the Arctic. Luckily for me, someone with close ties to SPDH has a copy posted on Facebook, having scanned each individual page. I went looking for it just within the past few weeks. I can’t remember the last time I had seen the contents, but I decided to embark on this personal archeology mission because yearbooks are suddenly all over the news, and I was curious what lurked in mine.
For the past few weeks, both Republicans and Democrats in the United States have called for the resignation of the governor of Virginia, after reports that his page in the 1984 medical school yearbook featured a photo of two men, one in blackface and another dressed as a Ku Klux Klansman. Not long after, another politician admitted that HIS 1968 yearbook, of which he was managing editor, had photos of students in blackface and with Confederate flags. What’s more, the yearbook also had several racial slurs, including the N-word.
Since then there’s been a flurry of yearbook scandals all over the States. One newspaper reported photos of KKK-costumed people pretending to lynch a man in blackface in the 1979 yearbook of a school the current North Carolina governor attended and, in a separate incident, student journalists at another school dug up a 1971 yearbook page that showed black-hooded students carrying rifles and staring at a black-faced mannequin hanging from a tree. The head of a university at yet another college ordered an audit of the school’s yearbook collection after a racist photo from 1968, depicting students in KKK robes, was uncovered.
While these are just the latest cringe-worthy yearbook revelations, they are, by no means, the only ones. Back in the fall, then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s detractors analyzed several entries in his college yearbook. Football, drinking, and beach parties were mentioned several times, giving his critics ammunition to declare that Kavanaugh’s behavior, along with seemingly derogatory comments on women, corroborated Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault accusations that became the centrepiece of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.
Who would’ve thought that, in the era of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, something as old-fashioned as a yearbook would be the medium that revealed such horrendous behaviour? But, as all of us pre-internet fogies know, social media’s hold on shame is not new. We’ve been behaving badly for eons – the only thing that’s changed is how we chronicle that behavior. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that we should teach our kids that the irresponsible behavior they may not worry much about when they’re 17, can most certainly come back to bite them as adults. (And even if the pictures don’t, the reputation might.)
Considering my (let’s call it) “lively” adolescence, I wondered what sights I might encounter in that yearbook of mine. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was nothing untoward or at all eyebrow-raising. I was in the group pictures of a few sports teams and clubs, one of the winter carnival pageant, in the spread of graduates, and one mysteriously prominent shot of me eating lunch – that was it. All the photos depicted a time that was pleasantly silly and hilariously outdated. There were pictures of boys in hockey gear, students in shop class, girls from the spirit committee, basketball players in mid-jump. Lots of ill-fitting jeans, terrible makeup, and way too many chokers to ignore. A typical 1997 yearbook in every way.
I’ll admit to a pang or two while turning the pages. For the students who died much too young. For friends I’ve lost touch with. For the ones who never found themselves and continue to struggle.
But there were also moments of school pride. For my classmates who have gone on to do such admirable work in so many important fields. For the high school sweethearts who went to the prom together and remain married to this day (no small feat). For all the familiar faces that I am happy to say I have stayed such close friends with for more than 25 years.
Some school yearbooks reveal past transgressions and sordid acts, yes. But let’s not forget they’re also time machines that display who we wanted to be and what we aspired to do. We may have taken awhile to evolve, and maybe we’re still working on it, but one glance in a yearbook makes it clear that our intentions were good. At least at SPDH, I’m proud to say.