By Tyler Norton
It takes thirteen scenes to illustrate how the 2019 installment of John F. Kennedy High School’s yearbook is like any other yearbook, in any other high school, in any other city, in the country:
- The cover. It’s smooth and shiny, opalescent, with REFLECTIONS etched in bold, script type. Yearbooks always have clichéd titles that mean absolutely nothing.
- Signatures take up every inch of real estate on the inside cover and title page. Dozens of notes, written in an equal number of colored inks, in varying degrees of legibility, from perfect cursive to chicken-scratch hieroglyphics. They all conveyed the same message, though. “We love you, Claire,” and “You’re so brave,” and “If you ever need anything, call me,” interspersed with the occasional “Have a great summer,” and “Good luck at Vassar.”
- A Message from Principal Schechter. “Dear Crusaders,” he begins, “This year, an unspeakable tragedy arrived at our doors. I grieve every day, not for you, but with you. Yet in our darkest hour, in our experience of heartbreak, I also witnessed a spirit of unrelenting resilience, of radical empathy, and the very best of our human nature.” The letter takes up an entire page and concludes with his signature and photo. He bears a striking resemblance to Gary Cole around the time he played the Vice President on The West Wing.
- Collages of sports teams tell a story of triumph and victory. A soccer player with a man-bun has his arms outstretched like an airplane; the 4×800 meter relay team celebrates after qualifying for the state meet; the softball captain flips her bat after hitting a walk-off home run. In the background of each photo, hand-made signs read “Kennedy Strong.”
- A poem, written by the valedictorian,
In free-verse format, that, if not for its
Would have actually been moving.
- Senior profiles. Boys in bowties and tuxedo jackets (golf shorts underneath) and girls in black dresses, their portraits taken the previous summer. A short bio sits underneath each picture, listing achievements and activities, plus a parting quote. From Kurt Vonnegut (“Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”), to Oscar Wilde (“You can never be overdressed or overeducated”), and even Oscar Gamble (“They don’t think it be like it is, but it do”). Shout-out to the soccer player who managed to sneak in “GMFB.”
- The rest of the class photos, sorted by year, then sub-sorted by alphabetical order. School picture day always took place the day before the first day of school. Nobody looks very happy to be here. It’s pure coincidence, of course, but it’s almost as if they know the next section begins with…
- A single photo that covers the entire layout. It’s from the candlelight vigil. A closeup of the candles, hundreds of them, leading up the track to the fence piled high with flowers. In the front row of the bleachers stand six easels, spaced evenly apart, and on each one rests a senior portrait. Behind them again appears the phrase Kennedy Strong. The yearbook editors debated adding a quote. They decided against it. The image speaks for itself.
- Full-page tributes. There’s Tiasha and Amy and Devon and Lindsay and Miles and Jack. For three years Claire and Jack were inseparable. Jack, her not-at-all-secret crush. Jack, the diver whose home meets she would never miss, even though she hated the smell of chlorine. Jack, who she hoped would one day ask her to prom.
- Blank pages, deliberately placed, to let the moment breathe.
- Event photos. Pep rallies and games, ski club and robotics, the fall play and spring musical. Prom, winter ball, and a dance marathon for charity. Concerts, National Honor Society Induction, Model UN. “There’s an activity or club for everyone,” Principal Schechter liked to say at freshman orientation. “There’s no reason any of you should go straight home when the bell rings at three o’clock.” Every activity and every club were photographed and documented in these pages. Except for Homecoming. Everyone agreed to make no mention of it.
- Faculty pictures and profiles always show up at the end. Nobody cares about them except the teachers themselves. By this point, all anyone wants to do is…
- Sign the back cover. Signatures take up every inch of real estate. Another dozen notes, written in even more shades of colored inks, in varying degrees of legibility, from flowery script to obnoxious block letters. They all have the same message, though. “We love you, Claire,” and “You’re so brave,” and “If you ever need anything, you can call me.”
Oh, my. I have a yearbook like that. Well-written story ~ enjoyed it a lot!
Very thoughtful and funny piece…. the HS yearbook is, in the end, a thoroughly American phenom. I especially liked the candlelight vigil page – A yearbook without an appropriate coming of age tragedy ….. the gorier the better, i.e. the fatal vodka-fueled crash on prom night, the romantic midnight swim gone wrong when Jaws arrives (who knew!) …. is simply not a yearbook. You’ve really captured everything.
The yearbook is a very interesting vehicle to tell a story. This is Claire’s yearbook and something has happened – at Homecoming, I gather. Exactly what is unclear. An auto accident. A mass shooting. If you ask me there would have been a lot more crying and consoling in various school activities happening after the event. The dive team surely would have devoted every meet to Jack. And yet we don’t see that – which makes me worry about the group. My own high school closed forever about 2 months ago. I am a longago-graduated alumna but yet I see a lot of signs of distress among the current students. High schools are full of rituals, memories and events which only the participants can fully understand.