This year’s high school yearbooks are going to tell a very different story from the pages of the past. Students on yearbook staffs across our country deserve recognition for the creativity it surely takes to preserve a pandemic year for posterity. I imagine, though, that there will be a certain sadness at the loss of so many traditions, team and club photographs in those pages when this pivotal school year comes to its culmination.
I thought I might share an idea that my recent high school graduates cherish more than I ever imagined they would. It’s a gift that may carry even more meaning to show this year’s class of kids who have often been so alone that they are really anything but.
How to make a “Years Book:” a graduation scrapbook
Make your child their own “YEARS BOOK.” With the ease of photo-book platforms like Shutterfly, it doesn’t take a lot of skill to create a personalized keepsake that will remind them of all they’ve accomplished and all the people who have helped them and have loved them along the way.
1. Reach out to the adults who were instrumental in their lives
In the first couple of months of my children’s graduation years, I reached out to all of the adults who had an impact in their lives: relatives, godparents, babysitters, sports coaches, dance and music teachers, their most beloved elementary, middle and high school teachers and family friends who were part of the village that helped raise them.
I emailed these people requesting that they send me letters sharing their favorite memories of my children and/or words of wisdom for a young person about to move on to a new chapter in their lives
- What do you wish you’d known when you were 18 that you know now?
- What are your top tips for being happy and successful in college and beyond?
- Do you have a particular quote that you live by and if so, what does it mean to you?
Fortunately, almost everyone I wrote to jumped at the opportunity. The emailed responses were easy to cut and paste into a customizable template. I scanned the handwritten cards and notes, inserting those like photographs. Yes, there were a few key people who required extra nudges (you know who you are, Uncle William), but in the end, each book had about sixty contributors with single or two-page spreads depending on how lengthy the messages were and how many photo memories I’d collected.
2. Use photos, lots of them
And oh the photos! In many ways, these books are far better than the baby books I made, and let’s be honest, neglected to finish for my children. With a table of contents of contributors, these books have a real THIS IS YOUR LIFE feel. Each page has a collage of photos of my children with the people who have supported them through the years.
In some cases, as with many teachers, I used the class photo and/or photos with best friends from that school year. When I could find them, I scanned art or a particularly memorable piece of writing from that class. For some high school teachers, I grabbed Google images of books they read in class that year or historical figures they studied.
3. Let the siblings and pets contribute
While I kept our Years Books to words of wisdom and memories from adults as opposed to the kids’ friends, I did reserve pages for letters from the siblings. Having them reflect on the experiences they’ve shared seemed to connect each child to the significance of the milestone that their lifelong-partner-in-all-things-family was about to accomplish. And I had to throw in a page with a “message” from our dog along with pictures of them with her over the years.
And here’s the thing. I was excited about the messages and the memories. As I was creating these surprises, the process of making the books was a precious gift to me, looking back at our journey over 18 years. I shed some cathartic tears and laughs in gratitude for all the loving letters.
Our daughter loved it!
But I wasn’t sure if my daughter, our first high school graduate would get it. Yet when she opened the gift and began to look through it, she cried. Without time to read any of the messages, she immediately recognized that so many people sincerely love and support her.
“This is the best present anyone has ever given me!” she exclaimed.
“I thought you’d hoped for a car,” her father joked.
“This is better than any boring old car,” she said.
My daughter loved her YEARS BOOK.
And I think she actually meant it. For several weeks after graduation, I’d catch her in bed reading the messages. She even brought the book with her to college. “Just in case I ever feel lonely,” she said, “This will remind me I have a lot of people rooting for me.”
A few years later, when it came time for her brother to graduate, he casually said, “Hey mom, you know that book you made Maddie? Well I wouldn’t mind if you made one for me.” I wasn’t sure that he’d be into such a thing but sure enough, for weeks after his graduation, I’d see him in bed at night pouring over the pages with a smile on is face.
I concluded the books with the words of Rumi:
You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.Rumi
To the parents of the Class of 2021, get ready. Your birdies are soon to soar!