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Updated: Dec 6, 2023

 An image that says "Happy Thanksgiving" along with a picture of students holding up their yearbooks.

This is the season of Thanksgiving and Gratitude! Expressing our thankfulness and practicing a heart of gratitude has become an integral part of November and December. The practice of gratitude generally leads to generous giving, so much so that many charitable businesses depend on the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas to float the majority of their budgets for the next fiscal year. I am grateful that selfless giving has an annual moment to shine. The following will illuminate how grateful I am to have been personally touched by my former students from my yearbook classes. Likewise, I will share how I have been able to influence them.

Recently, I heard an emotional exchange about grief and loss between Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper. Cooper quoted Colbert as saying he had learned to “love the thing that he had wished most not to have happened.” Cooper was referencing the tragic deaths of Colbert’s father and two brothers when he was ten years old. Colbert’s response resonated with me. With that reference, Colbert understood that from the depths of sorrow, one must embrace the grief and live in it. Essentially, Colbert understood that it is simply a “gift to exist.” For him, that meant if you are grateful for your life, you are grateful for all of it. Embracing everything about an event, and finding gratitude for what you realize as you move through the experience, is an extraordinary process that we are privileged to undertake. This is what it was like for me as a teacher! It was a gift to teach. That meant loving the worst and best aspects of my job because both were necessary. Both were inescapable. Both endured and could be celebrated.

So, here are some statements (in no particular order) of moments, memories, thoughts, realizations, and understanding, through the perspective of a yearbook adviser/teacher, for which I am grateful!

I am grateful for the truly “horrific" yearbook that spurred my involvement with the yearbook. This book was the last in a series of fair to middling yearbooks, all accomplished by faculty members without student input. This faculty member responsible for this yearbook was in over her head. Her good heart and reluctance to say no when asked to take on new responsibilities led her to feel ill-equipped for her yearbook tasks. I learned through this situation. It was not good that a high school yearbook was not created by high school students. This prompted me to initiate a new-to-the-school yearbook class. My good-hearted colleague became a champion for me and my students in this new class. Her challenging year proved to her that this path of making students responsible for their book was a necessary course correction. She was an incredible support and continues to be a friend for life. We focused our attention on being there for the students, promoting and encouraging their vision and voice. When you are open to gratitude, deep bonds of friendship can be the result.

I am grateful for that sassy, rowdy, and slightly irreverent first yearbook class. What an incredibly daring bunch! They didn’t know what to expect; I only knew that, by golly, we were going to have a book by the end of the year. There were lots of hiccups and restarts. We were tempered by fire. Not the least of which was the drama that can often slip into a class when you least expect it! Young people love drama! This year taught me SO MUCH! The basis for democratizing the class found its humble beginnings here. I am grateful these students demanded space for their opinions and thoughts. We forged a way to channel that energy in productive ways. I had many days where I thought the plan of the day was one way, and instead, it proceeded an entirely different way due to these beautiful, articulate, insistent young people. It was also with this first class that I learned the value of celebrating, and the essential need to pause, reflect, and check-in on each other, all to help relieve stress.

I am grateful to that administrator who gave the go-ahead for the class (although I don’t think he had much of a choice as we had state approval for the course curriculum and students who had pre-registered). He and I did not see eye-to-eye on how the dynamics of student voice should flow, but giving up ‘control’ of a powerful record of the school’s daily life was huge for the administration. I am grateful for his deliberation which provided the context necessary for this change of protocol and procedure. It was a gamble; that year’s senior class was the most outspoken to date in the school’s short history. The potential for drama (see the above paragraph) and controversy were strong. That added more to his plate as an administrator. His support of the yearbook wasn’t always what we’d have liked, but he did not back down from his approval of the yearbook class. I began to view things from a larger perspective and realized more fully the situation's complexity. He was willing to take the added responsibility rather than the easier way out–to appoint a faculty member to be responsible for the yearbook. I am grateful for the tension this relationship brought me.

I am grateful for the people in my life who inspired a love of learning in me. I am grateful for my organized and clear mind that knew how to research and present relevant material to my students. I am grateful for those in my life who taught me the value of timely feedback. I am grateful for the teachers I have encountered both as a student and as a colleague who modeled their craft well. Being able to present information in ways that students could receive it and make personal sense of it was a skill I realized I needed early on. I am forever grateful to my students who wanted to join me in relationship building so that teaching and learning worked! I am grateful that I was made and formed by my life experiences–all of them. Because of those experiences, I was open, ready, and able to understand and meet my students where they were. I am so very grateful to have been a teacher.

Thank you for allowing me to share these ruminations about my journey as a yearbook adviser. My deepest desire for you and your staff is to experience many days of gratitude. A gratitude practice for you and your staff is the 25-Day Gratitude Challenge! This is a list of 25 things to be happy about or grateful for–one per day–from December 1st through the 25th. Staff is invited to reflect on the object, person or concept per day. The challenge is to spend time in reflection first thing in the morning to see if students felt a measurable difference throughout their day. Another iteration is to invite the student body and the faculty to participate in the challenge with you! Collect responses to create a Gratitude Challenge page spread or two.

25-day gratitude challenge

Download a PDF of Natural Beach Living’s 25-Day Challenge here.

United Yearbook joins you in this Season of Thanksgiving and Gratitude. We are grateful for partnerships with each of our advisers and their staff, and are ready and willing to bring your creative ideas to life! We offer resources to complement your instruction and enrich your yearbook staff’s learning. Our Curriculum & Resources instructional guides provide presentations for use with your staff. We also tailor Workshop Sessions for any topic from Writing Captions to leveling up both Photography and Layout and Composition Design skills. Contact us. We are happy to assist you.

Former yearbook advisor, Lucy McHugh

Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.

Editor, Donna Ladner

Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.

Yearbook representative, Jessica Carrera

Co-Editor: Jessica Carrera, Marketing Manager for United Yearbook and Associate Editor at TSE Worldwide Press, holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in writing from Biola University. She aspires to touch the lives of others through her words.

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