Column - Commentary
Smile. For the next 40 years.By DAVE KIFFER
May 19, 2021
Granted, it's not as big a deal as prom or graduation or even that last walk-through the door into a glorious summer of "no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks". (Shout out to Alice Cooper!)
To be honest, at the time, it seems that the only people who really care about the yearbook are the students who work on it and the always harried advisor that "pushes them like a rented mule" to make the deadlines.
But if you jump ahead a couple of decades, the yearbooks suddenly take on a very significant role in the mythology of our high school experience.
In the same way that living in a small town guarantees that you will make the make the newspaper at least a few times (birth, marriage, death) in your life, the yearbook turns out - in the future - to be the only tangible evidence that you were - indeed - here.
Which, of course, can be a good or a bad thing.
If you had a successful high school "career" then it is there for all to see in black and white - and maybe a couple of shots of color. The cheerleaders, the academic stars, the band geeks, the athletes all get their moments. In fact, when you page through a yearbook in 2021 there are so many pages of "extra curriculars" you being to wonder if there was actually time for any "curricular" work to be done.
But it is all there, even the poignant photograph of you at the lunch table with the pretty girl you broke up with two weeks later. (Gosh darn those "candids.")
One of my friends had to explain to one of his daughters why there were several photos of him in his junior yearbook with a pretty girl who was not her mother - even though her mother was a classmate at the time.
He told her he had to "learn" to make good choices, too.
Which brings up the real reason for yearbooks. To amuse our children and grandchildren. More on that later.
Of course, the main way that we "make the yearbook" is in the individual photos. This is the bad thing.
Has anyone ever looked back at a photo from freshman year and said "yeah, I was really bringing it" that day.
That would be a hard "no."
Every year tens of millions of students take a first look at their freshman, sophomore and junior year photos and cringe.
"My hair was better than that."
"That zit is bigger than my nose."
"I did smile, they used the wrong picture."
Part of it is the assembly line nature of the process - in most cases - where some poor photographer is required to shoot 300 students in what seems like two hours, results be darned.
Part of it is the transition that we are all going through at that point. We don't get up most mornings happy with what stares back at us from the mirror. It is amazing how a person can be both too skinny and too fat, too tall and too short, too ugly and slightly less ugly at the same time. And the photos seem to capture all of that angst and none of what is generally a "nice kid."
Part of it is the simple fact that most people - at age 15 - have not yet learned how to "take a good picture."
We all have a sort of "good side." We all learn how to "establish" our chin. We all learn the fine line between a pleasant grin and a serial killer grin.
We just haven't learned it by that age.
Unless we are already modeling for Ralph Lauren. In which case we have already dropped out of high school and our "graduation" photos are being taken by Annie Liebowitz. Most high school graduates do not fall into that category.
I saw a yearbook from school back east once in which an entire class (juniors) had "caricature drawings" instead of photos. I'm sure the mothers weren't pleased, but it actually turned out well. Everyone's head was too big. It totally worked.
In truth, about all yearbook photos do is establish that eventually we do (by the 30th class reunion) "grow into our features" as Auntie "Bossie " always said we would.
Plus, as noted above, they provide endless hours of mirth for our children who relish our bad skin, egregious hair and poor clothing choices.
Until, of course, we point out that flowery shirts, neck chains and bell bottom pants have a warped way of coming back into style over and over and over again. Their time will come.
Then suddenly, in our senior year, we become supermodels.
Well, not quite, we still suffer from unfortunate hairstyle choices. And clothing that is not as universally cool as we believed.
But the photos - in general - show us as something approximating our best in that year.
Sometimes it takes multiple sittings and fights (Take off that danged hat!!!) before parents and children agree upon the final yearbook picture, but at least there are no surprises when either one opens the yearbook for the first time.
Except, natch, when the child sees the picture from when they were two years old, sitting in a bathtub, with chocolate smeared on their face on the "name that senior" page. That is one of the best moments of parenthood. Relish it.
I have noticed in modern times (my times, my son likes to point out, are NOT modern times) there is even more of a chance to make your "statement" by the location of your photo or what special prop(s) you want with you.
Baseball bats, guns, special pets, fishing poles, logs on the beach, boats, a crackling fire, the periodic table of elements are all showing up sharing the space with the graduate.
Just a heads up, any future seniors out there, this does not make your mothers' happy.
The more location or props in the photo, the less you. Remember, you are very important to your mother because she "made" you.
She appreciates you wanting to go a little "outside the box" for your senior photo but what she really wants in that "box" is YOU.
Do you really want to hear her sigh sadly every time the issue of the senior photo comes up for the next forty years?
Make a wise choice, grasshopper.
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Dave Kiffer is a freelance
writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.