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.
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.
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.
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.