Do you have a high school yearbook? Yes, that assembled collection of individual photos, class photos, sports and social event photos, plus many signatures from students you no longer remember, but who wrote what a great friend you were and that you two would be best friends forever. Oh, and there may have been a letter or two from your girlfriend/boyfriend, promising to love you forever. Yeah, that book.
Well, my book has been hiding on a bookshelf for six decades, always at the ready to tempt me to pick it up and relive one of life’s most difficult years. Why, oh why, would a sane person do that? Really. After all, who would forget the insecurity of never knowing whether you’re doing the right thing, saying the right thing, associating with the right people, or even feeling confident that you’re wearing the right clothes? Conformism was the rule, so get in line or die.
Remember that time you asked another student to be your date at a school party and she laughed? If only you could forget that, right? Or there was the time you took a student on a date and said or did something juvenile (because you were still just a teenager), and found out the next day at school that everyone now knew the story. Remember? Does a cow moo? Of course, I will always remember being sent to the principal’s office for having been found smoking a cigarette in the boy’s bathroom—or the time the boy’s vice principal saw a group of us skip school for a day and told our parents. And I didn’t even have a date for the senior prom, which was no surprise because I was too shy to ask a particular girl to go with me (which was an ongoing issue that began in junior high with this earlier post at https://davidsplace.org/facing-fear/ .
So, with all that, and more, why would I want to pick that yearbook off the shelf? Just seeing it brought back more memories than I wanted. NO. I refuse to pick the book up, even though it sits there like a bomb waiting to explode and tell the world what, in truth, no one cares about. That’s where it’s at, isn’t it? No one cares. And why should they? My high school experience was my last year in the secondary education bubble, the time when the real world stood still: no worry of wars or pestilence or politics or diseases, only fear that I wouldn’t get my homework in algebra finished on time, or that I would not have a date for Friday night. Life seemed hard.
Okay, with all that, maybe it’s not the yearbook’s fault; it was only the messenger. The big question is why have the yearbook at all? There may have been a time, possibly in the 1930s, when finishing high school was the apex of educational achievement and worthy of being duly recorded for posterity. But that time is gone, and celebrations of the group’s achievement of finishing high school have become a minor step in life. We have proof of this, as the pomp of finishing high school is now celebrated even in pre-K programs, where the tots wear mortarboards and gowns.
Further, the existence of yearbooks is to promote win/lose relationships and to make high school into a popularity contest. Too harsh? Consider the awards (where only a few ‘in crowd’ students vote) on best dressed, most likely to succeed, most popular, and other awards. My high school even had awards for the prettiest girls. There was no award for best algebra student or the best English essay. The other ‘contest’ was whether you got more signatures on your yearbook than others. After that day or two of ‘yearbook orgy’, where signing yearbooks topped all other interests, the books went to bookshelves to die and to periodically tempt us to remember all the events and issues that are now irrelevant to our lives.
So, my solution today was to, slowly and gleefully, rip my yearbook into shreds. To the girl who promised to love me forever, you forgot me within a year. To the many who assured me of being a best friend for life, I think that friendship from many was ending as the ink was drying. It was a good year; I grew from that year; and I made many mistakes in that year, but it is all in the past. (in fact, years ago, I worked with the reunion committee and built a website to commemorate the many reunions at https://tjraneyhs.davidskirk.org. ) Looking to tomorrow is the only option. The yearbook’s silent tormenting was killing me, and I knew I had to strike first. With this post, I am driving the nails into that coffin. And, in doing so, lifting a bag of bricks from my back. Well, that’s the plan.