A scene in an episode of the TV sitcom “The Middle” caught my attention recently. Nerdy yet eternally optimistic daughter Sue Heck fawns over her senior yearbook asserting that she’d be looking at it all the time for the rest of her life. She clutches it to her chest and eventually writes her name on the cover with a bright pink marker.
I chuckled. I had thought the same thing back in 1979 when I graduated from Allison-Bristow High School in Iowa (now North Butler Schools). My name was embossed in gold at the bottom of the yearbook. It had a bright red cover that featured big black “1979” and the head of the school mascot, the Trojan. I had leafed through the glossy pages several times that first year after graduation. Whenever I heard my classmates had married, I marked the year and spouse under their senior photo.
Leaving High School Behind
I lost track of (and interest in) my high school yearbook during my college years and left it behind in my childhood bedroom. I bought four years’ worth of The Scroll yearbook from Northwestern College (St. Paul, MN); I was on the yearbook staff my junior year.
The contrast between the high school and college yearbook was stark, which wasn’t a surprise. The hard cover of the high school yearbook was twice as thick as the inside pages (small school; 40 in my class). All photos were black and white and captions were mostly names; although it featured the senior class will and prophecy.
The thickness of the college yearbook cover was equal to the pages, which had about a dozen color pages. There were several 2-4 paragraph stories; candid student, event, and sports photos; a contents page and an index of student names. Wow! Such sophistication for a small private college in 1983.
I put the yearbooks away when I joined the workforce and began an exciting new stage in my life. I was too mature to bother with yearbooks of my high school and college years, so I thought. When I saw my parents’ yearbooks from the 50s on their bookshelves I wondered why they bothered to keep them.
When I got a public relations job at Northwestern 10 years later, a co-worker was the students’ yearbook advisor so my interest returned. The book hadn’t changed much in size, thickness and the embossed hard cover. But it had more color, better photo quality, and gasp!—GRAPHIC DESIGN! I began collecting them in my office more for research than anything. Several professors and staff remained from my college era so I enjoyed seeing how they had changed—or not changed.
When I left that job I was able to take a few yearbooks with me: those from my college years and a few from my employee era. I have a dozen that sit on a shelf of my nightstand. They are so heavy I fear the shelf will eventually break. I rarely look at them.
About a decade ago I was wandering around an antique store in Waverly, Iowa, and a book with the word Scroll caught my eye. I knew immediately that it was a Northwestern Scroll (circa 1940s). In fact, I knew of the original owner from the college’s history, who had lived in nearby Waterloo, Iowa, but was since deceased. The yearbook must have been among her belongings put up for consignment. I bought it for $2 and took it home. I leafed through it, reading the many handwritten messages from classmates and a few notes on their deaths. Eventually I lost interest and, yes, put it on the Northwestern shelf.
Back to High School
In the meantime, my high school yearbook was buried in the hope chest, along with my wedding dress. I dug it out once when my first classmate died. I paged through it looking for his photos; sadly, there weren’t many.
In the past 15 years I inherited Allison-Bristow High School yearbooks from the 1960s and 1970s as my parents downsized. In all, I collected 11 yearbooks and put them on another nightstand shelf to collect dust.
Occasionally my parents would tell me news of Allison-Bristow alumni who lived in the area (or whose parents still did): jobs, kids, grandkids, divorces, remarriages, deaths of children and parents. Many times I remembered the name, but the faces were fuzzy, so I referenced the yearbooks to put the faces in focus; sometimes I had to figure out a maiden name to make the connection.
Yearbook vs. Facebook
Facebook emerged and long-lost schoolmates re-emerged. Connecting with them was fun as we caught up on decades of news. We had all aged—some better than others. Some had moved down the road from where they grew up; others to Texas and California. As we reminisced and even posted old school photos, I found myself looking at the yearbooks more.
When “Embracing Hope” was published and word was getting out in my home towns and the school district, I connected with more schoolmates on Facebook. Soon I was sitting on the floor beside the nightstand paging through entire yearbooks, one after the other. I admit there were tears; after all, life has changed all of us in one way or another. Yet it was enjoyable looking back on simpler times and their “far out” styles and reconnecting with my roots. I haven’t made notes of schoolmates’ and teacher deaths, and I don’t plan to.
So, Sue Heck, you won’t look at your yearbook all the time for the rest of your life. You might forget about it or misplace it for a decade or two. But there will be times when you’ll have a reason to search for it, page through it and be glad you have it.