Hi. My name is Brooks. I’m here to tell you that this summer, I’m writing about yearbooks. I can’t stop buying other people’s yearbooks and it’s a problem — a small and kinda stupid problem — that I’m hoping to capitalize off of by doing a lot of research and writing a lot of words. I also want to tell you why I have so many yearbooks and convince you that yearbooks are worth obsessing about. Oof.
Let’s start here: my mom has always kept her yearbooks in this big wooden magazine rack in our living room, and I started exploring them around age twelve. I would spread them all out on the low-pile brown carpet and read the signatures. I would pretend I was a detective, that I was reading about a stranger and I had to figure out what kind of person they were. Debbie was small and funny and had school spirit and a hot mom. Everybody loved Debbie.
But that’s the thing about yearbook signatures — everybody loves you. You get your friends and classmates and favorite teachers to sign them, and they tell you how funny and smart you are, how you were a joy to have in class, how they wish they had more time with you. You leave high school with this big heavy solid piece of memory and in it, everyone loves you and everyone’s smiling and the home team always wins.
The endsheets of a yearbook create a liminal space where you are both subject and audience. They house a curated version of your teenage self, a rosy snapshot of your identity performance that you may never fully recognize as you. This false-self construction, this cognitive dissonance between who we are and how we’re perceived in adolescence, is something I’ve been exploring for almost two years. I’ve written articles about TikTok e-boys and the high school experiences of femme-aligned individuals. I’ve self-published a graphic novel chronicling my struggles while navigating high school as a teenage girl. I study identity in flux, and there’s no more turbulent time for self-concept than adolescence.
I’ve always been interested in the tangible ways we show the world who we are, the pieces of ourselves we leave behind for someone else to find. Yearbooks provide a fascinating cross-section of a person whose identity is far from solidified, of a school that changes every year, of a youth culture that never stops changing. They exist at the intersection of archival artifact and personal item. A yearbook is a diary, a directory, a history book, a graffitied bathroom stall.
Each yearbook I find tells a unique story, and I’m excited to share those stories with you… and hear some of yours! Stick around this summer and I’ll show off some of the coolest yearbooks I’ve collected and provide some commentary on the year, the school, and the portrait painted by each series of signatures. I might sprinkle in some pop culture analysis, gender theory, or a quick Google search about psychology here and there. We’ll see. (I’m trying not to overintellectualize my passion projects. Clearly, it’s going great so far.)
Stop by next Monday for a deep dive into the first yearbook I ever bought (trust me, it’s a juicy one)! I leave you with this piece of wisdom from my mom’s junior yearbook:
Thanks, Rolin. Happy Memorial Day!