There is no better social crutch in high school than being on the yearbook staff.
We moved to California from South Dakota at a perfect age for me. I was in the 7th grade, so I had the advantage of arriving on the scene when about five elementary schools were converging on one junior high school. I was someone who could have come from any other grade school. No one knew everyone. So someone who knew no one didn’t stand out as much. Follow?
The timing wasn’t as good for my sisters. One was a 9th grader (the highest grade in our junior high school) and the other was a senior in high school. Imagine being the new kid as a senior. Tough. They both did very well finding their niches, but it couldn’t have been easy.
In any case, I signed up for Yearbook and it was the best move I could have made. I already had a casual interest in photography, so I grabbed ahold of a camera and suddenly I was the one everyone was calling over to take a picture. Groups of kids – popular, confident, fun kids – clamored into some crazy pose and started hollering at me. OK, so they weren’t calling my name per se….but that’s not the point. They were yelling something like, “HEY, GIRL! COME TAKE OUR PICTURE!” They wanted me. I had a role. Eventually they learned my name and used it more. The camera was a magnet.
The other thing I learned about in Yearbook was layout and design. Granted, our layout and our design at the junior high level turned out to be terrible, but it was a start. I continued Yearbook in high school, where the publication was much more professional and we took ourselves very seriously. We received our training from the upper classmen and the publishing rep, who was a really great guy and effective teacher. I learned about photo composition and quality, page layout, proper use of white space, gutters, text boxes….and this was all manual, of course. On carbonless duplicating paper. Gluing photographs to layouts. Most importantly, I learned about project management (although we didn’t call it that) and meeting deadlines. I have used those skills all of my life. The yearbooks we created in high school were really quite excellent, even if I do say so myself. The staff was a group of terrific students, led by an exceptional advisor. Aside from the marching band, it was the first high performance team I’d been on, and it proved to be a valuable experience.
So enough of the resume-building stuff. Back to the real benefit. Yearbook gave you power. You decided whose face would live in infamy. You decided who filled the dozens of coveted “candid” pages where people got to show how much fun they were in high school. Those were the pages that mattered. Not the single headshot everyone got. And not your little dot-of-a-face in the clubs’ group picture. It was the candids that immortalized you. So as photographers, your appeal reached a zenith in high school. You never had to worry about walking into a basketball game and not seeing someone you knew or not being able to find a seat. The second you walked in the door with a camera around your neck, the attention of the crowd became focused on you as students waved their arms and leaped in the air, grinning and whooping for you to come by. It was like being a celebrity. I ate it up.
All of us on the staff felt like insiders. We could get a hall pass whenever we wanted. We’d leave campus on “yearbook business” such as selling advertising or taking film in to be processed (remember film?). And as much freedom and power as we were given, I recall working very hard, and doing the right thing. As editors in charge of those pages, we all had an ethical responsibility to provide equal representation across the entire student body. You wanted to give as many people as possible the chance to be seen on those pages. It was a heady responsibility.
So I was never a cheerleader or a star athlete. I was never a Student Body President or a Homecoming Queen.
But I was a photographer on the Yearbook Staff, gosh darn it. And people loved me for it.