Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Column: These high school grads are hard to picture

I’ve been an editor in chief for a little over a year now, and because of my lofty title you might assume I spend most of my time engaged almost exclusively in glamorous journalistic activities, such as tripping copy boys and berating that Parker kid for not getting me better pictures of that blasted Spider-Man. And you would be right.

But I also have to handle the workaday responsibilities that come up when you least expect them and that cannot be handled by other people, because those people have gone into public relations. For instance, the other day I spent several hours helping a colleague match the names to the yearbook photos of 236 local high school graduates, 235 of whom were named Brittney.

I kid, of course – it just seemed like they were all named Brittney. (Some of them were named Brittnee.) But what really struck me during that exercise was how yearbook photos have changed since I went to high school in the 1980s. For instance, back then about two-thirds of the photos featured a mullet haircut, which seemed completely normal at the time, in comparison to Jon Bon Jovi.

But what the current photos lack in mullets they more than make up for in variety. Back when I was in school they issued us plastic combs and stuck us all in the same pose in front of a standard sky-blue background. As a result all the yearbook photos were basically identical, except that some of us were dressed like Madonna and/or Robert Smith of The Cure. We know who we are.

But these days, it seems, anything goes: Backdrops are black, blue, yellow, red and everything in between; some are outside, some are inside; pictures are taken from above, below and either side; outfits range from ties to T-shirts, with at least three of the students I saw having apparently just stepped off a motorcycle, all of them girls.

As random as the photos appeared, though, I’ve managed to narrow them down into three discernable categories. You may want to keep these handy next time you find yourself looking through your child’s yearbook attempting to decipher the texting shorthand in all the bios (GR8 <3 U HU9 Fibberty-Gibberty!, etc.):

1) Grads In Trees. I’d estimate that a good one in five graduates has opted to pose with a tree for her senior photo. (I say “her” because it’s mostly girls – boys would probably prefer to pose with a manlier piece of nature, such as a big rock, or a badger.) Most of the subjects have one hand pressed against the tree as if to hold it up, and I saw at least one overachieving graduate who seems to be sandwiched between TWO trees, like a schizophrenic squirrel.

2) Grads On The Beach. Again mostly girls, these shots feature a smiling teenager carefully posed so as to feature both sand and surf in the background. It’s worth noting the beach has apparently been cleared of detritus (seaweed, needles, toddlers) and the seniors are, thankfully, fully dressed. At least from the waist up.

3) Grads With Sore Necks. I find it disturbing how many high-schoolers seem to be suffering from acute upper body stress, at least judging from the number of them posing for their senior portraits with one hand awkwardly massaging the back of their own neck. Others have their hands joined together with their chin or face resting on top of them, as if to keep them from strangling people of their own accord like in the movie “The Crawling Hand” (1958). I’m just saying.

It’s all a little disconcerting, especially when taken together with the blurbs describing their high school memories. (So Johnny, what is this “Sticky Taffy Saturday Night,” and does your mother know about it?) But I think in the end I have to come down in favor of the variety: I can’t help but think that when today’s students look back in 20 or 30 years, this mash-mash of styles will represent their graduating classes much better than the uniform images of years past.

But they’ll probably have no idea what <3 U HU9 meant.

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