The Yearbook Myth

One commercial that stuck with me from the time I first saw it as a kid until I became a teenager was an ad for McDonald’s entitled “Great Year!”  It features the antics of Central Junior High School’s yearbook staff as they attempt to cover all of the great and crazy things that happened during the course of the school year and then meet at McDonald’s to celebrate their success.

Watch the minute-long ad and you’ll see a portrait of a junior high school that in 1983 or whenever it was originally shot had to be the coolest place on Earth.  Everyone gets along, someone walks through the hallway dressed as a strawberry, and even the high pressure moments are filled with a goofiness that only comes when you are selling hamburgers.  I don’t have to do much to convince anyone that my junior high experience was not really like this.  Had “Great Year!” been a real reflection of what I remember, there would have been footage of a gym teacher cutting gum out of someone’s hair, two guys blowing snot rockets all over the school store while the people who worked there gagged and yelled at them to stop, and one kid looking scared out of his mind while another threatened to beat the ever-loving snot out of him if he did even the slightest thing wrong.  Or maybe that’s just my take.


The montage of your memories

Being a high school yearbook adviser, I have one of the more peculiar positions among the people in my building.  Sure, I get to teach my staffers about photography, layout and design, and some aspects of journalism while playing with some really cool toys, but I also have a certain amount of power.  Because when you think of it, I–and the 10 or 15 people who are on my staff from year to year–control the memories of the student body.

Oh sure, when you graduate high school the memories that you have are your own and nobody else’s and nobody can actually go back and change history to suit their needs (with the possible exception of the Texas Board of Education), but when you leave high school it’s very likely that you leave holding a yearbook.  That yearbook is the last vestige of those four years, something that will sit on a shelf or be tucked away into a box until one day when you come across it while moving or glance at it while looking for your copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being or dig it out after talking to a long lost friend.

What’s inside of that book are, of course, the memories that the yearbook staff has carefully crafted for you.  And the further away you get from high school, the more you find yourself agreeing with the masterminds who spent hours upon hours poring through candid photos, crafting captions, and going blind to make sure every element on the page was laid out perfectly.  Oh, you may have laughed at how much bullshit was in the book when you got it (or as I liked to call it, “fabricated memories you can cherish for a lifetime”), but when your 15th anniversary is around the corner, you will look through the book and say, “Yeah, I remember that!”