One of our fundamental principles here at UYB is that a yearbook should inclusively tell the story of the entire school and not leave anybody out; the more-involved and the less-involved and all the various groups and subcultures that are on campus this year need to be fairly and proportionately reflected in the book.
The only exception we would make for this? Seniors. Seniors get special attention.
They get the big portraits that are often at the front of the book. They get their own special features, like “senior quotes” or “seniors’ favorite bands” or “what are you doing next year?” and of course the inevitable “best eyes” “most artistic” “most likely to succeed” polls.
It’s important to do your Senior Section well. At many schools, it’s the whole reason most of your customers are buying your book.
Planning and Preparing
To prepare the whole yearbook staff for the Senior Section, I led a class discussion on why the Senior Section was esteemed so highly. We examined the Senior Section from all points of view, from underclassmen looking towards their future as seniors and what they saw as important, to the seniors’ vantage point which, honestly, on any given day ranged from bittersweet rememberings to hurry-up-I-want-to-get-on-with-my-life!
Every year I was gifted with a small group of willing seniors, eager to complete the Senior Section of the yearbook, and we established two emphases:
Start earlier in the year than you might think, because there are a lot of pieces to plan and execute;
Create effective lines of communication, particularly with parents.
These kept the workflow moving forward, and by February, when the Senior Section was wrapping up, my senior staff felt a healthy pressure to finish strong.
Senior Section Features
During my last year as an adviser (2019-2020), the yearbook’s theme was that of a book, so the Senior Section was titled The Final Chapter. We couldn’t include all the personal, one-on-one experiences that make high school so transformative, but we could certainly include key events. Senior staff decided to use a group photo and a series of candid shots from their freshman year to capture where they began their story as a class. The first page of the Senior Section reached all the way back to the foundational first experience they had together at school, their Freshman Retreat.
Likewise, the first spread of the Senior Section was dedicated to the first of the “last” group experiences of their senior year, the Senior Sunrise. The photographs captured the fondness the students had for one another, the expectations held in the rising of the sun, and the community’s spirit.
They continued to blend the past and present with a “Then & Now” timeline of images and captions that told the story of who they were and who they were becoming. These spreads followed a number of students who were willing to share personal growth over their four years at the school. These photographs were collected from the students and from friends and families, with quick interviews providing caption content.
Ah, the inevitable baby pictures, another tradition that can be a pain. At some schools, this section is used as a money-maker; like the “senior ads,” parents can purchase a spot on the page for their student’s baby picture and a few words. At my school, it was treated as a regular feature, so we used a portrait-style layout open to anyone who had a pic to submit. The difficulty, whether free or paid, was getting the photos and messages from the families in a timely way. My senior staff was the most effective collection agency I have ever witnessed; we had good clean lines of communication to parents, and the staffers knew how to get after it. But please recognize that, if you want to use this feature, you are depending heavily on parental cooperation.
"These spreads followed a number of students who were willing to share personal growth over their four years at the school."
The Challenges of Covid
All parts of your yearbook should remain open to covering the unexpected, and a Senior Section is no different. Having to finish their final semester off campus was a blow to our seniors, so a senior art student wanted to custom-design t-shirts for her fellow seniors. We wanted to support this outstanding random act of love and compassion, so as a team we made adjustments and created space in the yearbook. Our yearbook senior staff even successfully petitioned the administration to have these shirts printed free of charge. We set up a distribution/yearbook photograph event, and the resulting page spread carried the story of the shirts and a special goodbye from our school’s chaplain.
Covid left its mark in other ways as well. One of the keystones of a Senior Section is letting students share what’s next for them after graduation. At our school, one yearbook tradition in which students and faculty took great pride was the spread for college commitment and scholarships. As we transitioned from on campus to virtual schooling, our seniors (and the school counselors) were quick to pivot and supply photos and information to our staff. The candid from-home photos in college shirts made the statements far more personal.
Senior quotes were always a struggle. I didn’t like being the referee for what was appropriate, but the senior staff really wanted the quotes. So the senior staff, the administration and I met and determined a standard protocol – what constituted a quote, who collected them and how, and who would review them. Again, my student-collection agency was on it; they gathered a record number of quotes, policed the first round, and handed them off to the administration for the final okay. I only had to smile and nod a lot.
The final spreads of the Senior Section are the inevitable ‘superlatives’; again, not my favorite section, but the seniors loved it. We worked in teams to create a long list of options, then had an in-class discussion about what kinds of “mosts” we wanted for this spread. The objective was to be as inclusive as possible with as many pages as needed to meet that goal. Our senior staff ran our list by the administration — which created a bit of a back and forth — and once a healthy list was agreed upon, our unstoppable collection-agency again rose to the occasion to gather nominations, votes, and finally the photographs the winners needed to send in. I must admit that, of the entire Senior Section, I was perhaps proudest of this ‘Superlatives’ package. I was truly amazed by the in-the-time-of-Covid collaborative effort of the senior staff to complete these spreads.
"Covid left its mark in other ways as well."
Take-aways on Senior Sections
Trust students more. I found that when I gave up control (collecting baby pictures, senior quotes, and ‘superlatives’ myself) and brought the people who really mattered together (our student staff and our administration) to work out problematic areas, the process went really, really well.
Be open. Students often have the best of intentions and ideas to match. Openness allowed our yearbook to change on a dime…and in a pandemic, we had to do so. In every section, from academics to athletics, the staff had to brainstorm workarounds and pivot quickly. The experience made everyone, including me, rethink how things could be done.
Make solid partnerships. The partnerships students made with each other, the administration, other teachers/staff/coaches, families, and businesses were remarkable experiences. My senior staffers will never forget how they forged their way through obstacles (including their own inexperience and fear) to get those t-shirts printed.
Right now, the senior section in your yearbook is likely coming to a conclusion, so thank you for allowing me to share my experience; I hope it was helpful. My best wishes to you for an exciting finish. And as always, United Yearbook Printing is ready to assist both you and your students!
United Yearbook offers resources, curriculum, and on-site workshops on this and other topics. To learn more, contact us at info@UnitedYearbookPrinting.com or visit our website at www.unitedyearbook.net.
Miss Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing via a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former yearbook adviser at Xavier College Preparatory High School. She earned 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 taught K-12 Art and was awarded the 2001 Nebraska Art Teacher of the Year, and in 2010 she was awarded Nebraska Elementary Art Teacher of the Year. Most recently Lucy was awarded the 2017 CA High School Art Teacher of the Year.