Tag Archives: adolescence

Yearbooks as Folk Art

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (MS). 

MS: So, a yearbook is traditionally issued at the end of the school year when you’re in elementary school through high school… and they have pictures of everyone in the school taken throughout the year… and you’ll usually write messages in your friends’ books.

LT: But not all messages are equal (laughs). 

MS: Yeah, like in elementary school, everyone just wrote their names because we didn’t know how to write many things, but generally, in high school, it’s bad to just write “HAGS,” which means have a good summer… you want to write something more heartfelt because people often keep yearbooks and will want to be able to reminisce on memories and stuff in the future, so you need good messages. If someone writes “HAGS,” they probably don’t know you that well. 

Background: 

MS is one of my best friends, and she grew up in Los Angeles. She got her first yearbook when she was six years old, at the end of Kindergarten. She often jokes that she’s a “hoarder” because she keeps a lot of things for their sentimental value, including yearbooks. She actually just read through all of her old yearbooks the night before our interview since she “wasn’t doing anything better during quarantine.” Her favorite thing about yearbooks is reading the messages. She likes to think about who she’s still friends with and who she doesn’t stay in touch with. She also likes the messages that remind her of memories she wouldn’t have thought of on her own. 

Context:

MS and I normally see each other most days at USC, and we’ve been continuing to FaceTime often during this quarantine period. This piece was collected during a “Zoom Happy Hour” with our friend group. 

Thoughts:

In American culture, we often stress the importance of being “cool in high school.” Media often promotes the idea that an American teen’s self worth can be measured in how many friends they have. Yearbooks are a physical way we can quanitize that. I remember reading through my mom’s old yearbooks as a child, and I was so impressed by how many people had signed it. When I was in high school, I would actually get stressed and feel pressured to make sure every blank page in my book was covered with signatures. Now, as a college student, I don’t even know where most of my yearbooks are. In MS’s case, it’s nice to reminisce about the memories with dear, old friends. However, she doesn’t particularly care about the messages written by people she wasn’t close to. Yearbooks symbolize the things that felt so important as a teenager that don’t particularly matter later in life. Inherently, yearbooks are a really sweet tradition that should be treated more authentically. 

The Ritual of Grad Night

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (AT). 

AT: For high school graduation, either right before or right after you do your graduation ceremony, it’s usually sometime during that week… There’s this other, more casual ceremony called Grad Night, where you stay up all night with your classmates doing different things. It varies from school to school and year to year and stuff, like I know some schools do DisneyLand, but at my school, we went to LACMA after hours, and they literally took us to a bar! (Laughs) They only had non-alcoholic drinks though. We then went to a bowling alley… and… a comedy club… it’s honestly hard to remember at this point where exactly we went. We just stayed up going different places around LA.

LT: What’s the point of it? 

AT: No matter what you do, the point is it’s just that last time you’re all together as a class. Like ours was after graduation, and I remember watching people get picked up and just thinking “I might never see them again.” 

Background: 

AT is a twenty-three-year-old from Los Angeles, where she attended a private all girls high school. Like most private schools in LA, this school was known for having elaborate events, including Grad Night, so she had been waiting for her own ever since she first attended the school. In addition, AT says that due to the nature of her school being very small and all girls, Grad Night in particular is historically very emotional. She also says that Grad Night felt more ‘real’ than the graduation ceremony because it was more casual and “actually felt like we were just hanging out, and it’s where I said goodbye to a lot of people.” 

Context: 

AT is one of my relatives with whom I’m quarantining. This piece was collected in our living room as we were sitting at our kitchen table. 

Thoughts: 

I think Grad Night speaks to the greater idea Americans have of adolescence. There are countless American movies that take place during a character’s senior year or the summer after high school, symbolizing the end of their childhood. While some societies put an emphasis on aging and wisdom, our society values youth, and it depicts the transition into adulthood as being stark and not gradual, hence the need to fit in as many memories as possible before that youth runs out. Grad Night is a perfect and exaggerated example of this. High school graduation is arguably the most significant milestone in terms of becoming an American adult, and Grad Night is essentially put on by the school so the students can have their last chance at making childhood memories. We hold this belief that you can’t have fun once you grow up, so there’s an added importance to the end of high school to ‘live while you still can.’ 

For more background on the emotional significance of Grad Night:

Spicer, Susan. “12-14 Years: Grad Night.” Today’s Parent, vol. 27, no. 6, 06, 2010, pp. 148-148,151

Graduation at Phillips Academy Andover

Informant: “At Andover, graduation is a big thing because, so tradition-wise it always, you lead the gradu—blue key heads, which I’ll explain in a sec, lead and, they lead and, uh, end the graduation procession and, uh, the graduation procession follows bagpipers so we have a full band of bagpipers and this is apparently like school tradition since 1778 that a full team of Scottish bagpipers starts off graduation and I hated it. And then we all—“

Lavelle: Did they wear kilts?

Informant: “What? Yeah, they were wearing full Scottish dress and they played the bagpipes. And so then we follow them and then, um, blue key heads, so then, oh and then for ours– so we go throughout the whole graduation ceremony and then what happens is our graduation, instead of people being called up, we all stand in a circle. So the entire grade, and we have like 330 people, you have 330 people standing in a circle and when they call out your name for your diploma, your diploma’s handed down the circle. So it’s passed down through each of your friends’ hands until it reaches you. Um, which was really cool because  a) it went really fast because you didn’t have to wait for people to go by, so that was great, it went really quickly. Second, and then it was cool because, like, all your friends were passing it to you and then, like, everyone could celebrate as you got your diploma and you were all standing in this circle. And then when you all got your diploma you all stood in the circle for, like, a couple minutes and, like, appreciated that you were standing with your class for the last time. Um, and then the blue key heads run in the middle and learn– er, lead everybody in a round of, like, school cheers and then we break the circle.”

 

My informant was a graduate of Phillips Academy Andover with the class of 2011. This is an important memory for my informant as she greatly enjoyed her high school experience and looks back on her years at Andover fondly.

High school graduation is an important rite of passage for all adolescents and every high school has its own traditions that its students enjoy. High school graduation is often the last time students will be together with their class and can be a bittersweet experience. This is just one example of a unique graduation ceremony.

For more information about Andover graduation:

http://www.andover.edu/StudentLife/Commencement/Pages/default.aspx