Celebrating Memories on Independence Day

yearbooks sm

For many of us, it’s tough to consistently live in the present. Forward thinking, planning for the future is great, and there is nothing wrong with a little nostalgia, remembering the good and even the not-so-good times of our pasts.

Independence Day is a good time for all three. We remember what brought us to be a great nation, and we celebrate that, but at the same time, much in our present state makes us want to look forward to how we can improve on many things. Nothing wrong with that, either.

I spent yesterday visiting through cyberspace with lots of people I don’t even know as they got a little nostalgic for a piece of tangible evidence of their own days gone by.

Let me throw you a pinch of backstory: I am lucky enough to teach at the high school from which I graduated some 30-plus years ago. I am even luckier to be the yearbook adviser. People come into my classroom for any kind of business, and they see the bookshelf that faces my desk and inevitably, they begin searching for the year they graduated – or the year their parents graduated. Yearbooks are magical portals to another time that most cannot resist when they have a chance. Unfortunately, the students of today – even 20 years ago, when other students were the students of today – don’t realize the importance of these portals at the time, and many don’t buy their yearbooks for one reason or another.

Back to the backstory: Our campus is under construction, and I will soon be moved from a spacious classroom with an office and two storage rooms to a remodeled room with only cabinets for storage. In one of my current storage rooms, I have three decades’ worth of unsold yearbooks. I must purge, but who wants to throw away yearbooks?

I recently discovered a Facebook page under our school’s mascot. It was created by an alumnus who is spearheading an all-class bash this summer to coincide with his own class’s reunion (class of 1984). The page has 5,000 friends. I sent him a message about my abundance of yearbooks and he made a post to the page about the books I have for sale, tagging me. I spent large portions of the day responding to requests for various books, some of which I had, some of which I didn’t.

What moved me was the messages I received from these people who were scattered across the nation.

“We lost everything in a tornado in 2011. I graduated in 1996 and would love to replace all 4 years. Do you have these?”

She and I communicated through private messaging about shipping, and I’m happy to be able to replace these books for her. I know she’ll be delighted to have them back.

Here was another:

“Id like to get one from 1975. Lost mine when moms house burned down.”

I was not able to help this gentleman out, as my stash starts out with 1985, but he was appreciative that I responded and asked me to keep him in mind if I ran across one from 1975. I will.

Yearbook sales have dropped in the last decade or two, and I fear many of today’s teens don’t see the point when they are constantly taking pictures with their phones, know they have all their important stuff on their own Facebook page, or think the yearbook staff is only covering “the popular people.” I have my staff focus on covering as many students as they can, but they do run across some who don’t want to be a part of it, which saddens me. Nevertheless, I fear many who do not buy will one day wish they had, like this man:

“Lisa I never bought any in school. I would love to have a 85,86,87, and 88.”

I’ll be able to help him with his freshman and senior books, but if he’d bought while he was in school, he’d likely have all four AND have his friends’ signatures and handwritten messages.

As I messaged these people and had brief conversations with them, I am more convinced than ever that yearbooks are an important link to our pasts and should not be underestimated. Yes, for some, they are expensive, but besides the cliché, “what price do you put on memories?’, which does not help when your single mom struggles to pay the bills and put dinner on the table, I would add this: I work to provide opportunities for everyone to have a chance to have a book, and if you are an adviser, I would suggest you try some of the following:

  • Yearbook staff members who meet their obligations, as per contract, receive a complimentary book. They work hard and deserve it, if they meet their deadlines.
  • I provide an early-bird price the first month the books go on sale and encourage as many as possible to buy before the regular price is set.
  • I provide a sibling discount. For students who share an address or a parent (have to be careful not to be taken advantage of and school records provide this information), the second and subsequent books are at 40 percent off. The math just worked out easiest at that rate.
  • High school teachers and staff get a discount (so, therefore, do their children, grandchildren).
  • I also communicate with the senior counselor and some senior teachers to allow them to submit names of students they feel would appreciate but cannot afford books. We always have some seniors who are providing for themselves by this point, and life is hard enough.

How can I afford all these discounts and complimentary books? We sell advertising. In our community, we don’t really have competing schools (a couple smaller cities outside our own), and I realize other communities don’t have that advantage, but other types of advertising and fundraisers can help. Besides business display ads, we sell senior tribute ads and folio ads, or page sponsorships. This revenue also helps our staff with supplies, equipment, memberships, contests, travel, workshops – and pizza. The sales of these older books will help out a lot, too.

Perhaps, as you celebrate Independence Day, even if you have to work part of it, you’ll think about the past that brought our nation to where we are today, and maybe you’ll pull those dusty yearbooks down from the shelf and think about what brought you to where you are today.

Do you have your yearbooks? How important have they been to you over the years?





About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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