Did We Live Up To Our Yearbook Pages?

by Ester Bloom

Graduation season has, mercifully, just passed, and yearbooks — which capture for eternity the earnest sarcasm and sarcastic earnestness of our 18-year-old selves — are tucked away, to be cherished and cringed at for decades to come. What do the undimmed hopes of our teenage years, inscribed on the gravestones of our youth, say to us now, 10 or 20 years later? How accountable are we to our adolescent selves? What can we learn from our own time capsules, these postcards from the past? And what the hell were we thinking with all the abbreviations? The Hairpin reports.

MIKE DANG of The Billfold:

We didn’t have quotes or anything like that in my high school yearbook, but I was voted “Most Spirited” by my senior class. The “senior superlatives” were done in boy/girl pairs, so my friend Daisy, who was a cheerleader and in student government with me, was also voted “Most Spirited.” I loved being in high school (well, up to that last semester when I was excited about moving on and going to college). I loved going to classes, planning school dances and assemblies, running in track and field, making T-shirts and posters for big games, being in the school musical, participating in marching band, running the student store, joining basically every club ever.

[So, basically, a more functional version of Max from Rushmore. — ed.]

*LOGAN SACHON of The Billfold:

I was going through a Jesus moment when it was time to choose quotes. I was out of it by the time the yearbook came out. I was also out of my period of thinking that the world/anything could be changed by me or anyone else, or that anything mattered, at all. YOUTH.

*JULIEANNE SMOLINSKI, aka @boobsradley:

I lived up to the promise of my high school yearbook page in that I still look terrible in photographs.


My senior photo from high school tells me that my big aspiration was to have sideburns. I’m happy to report that since high school, I’ve achieved moderate success in that area.

My quote:

“You see things; and say ‘why’? But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘why not’?” — George Bernard Shaw. ILY M&D, GL Dan and Jeff. GLTAMF

It’s like I was pressured into using the abbreviations that everyone else used. I did and do love my parents and certainly wished and wish my brothers luck, but I would never use acronyms like that IRL, and especially in that pre-Twitter existence. SMH. I suppose it’s better than emoticons? I unfortunately never won any superlatives, though I do sometimes wonder how life would be different had I won something like “Most All-Around,” “Class Athlete,” “Most Unique Car,” or “Cutest Sneeze.” (All actual categories.) Eh. Whatever. I always believed in my sneeze.


“Glory to those who hope! For the future is theirs; Those who stand unflinching against the mountain shall gain its summit.” IWALY M&D GL Eric GL Dan-o in all that you do. GLTAMF, you know who you are. Car, Linz, Greg, and all my other peeps. ILYM.

IWALY = I will always love you, which is what everyone said

GL = good luck. I don’t think I called [my twin] Dan “Dan-o” ever

GLTAMF = good luck to all my friends

I didn’t talk to Carolyn for half of my senior year, Lindsay I stopped talking to after freshman year of college [Ouch. Sorry, ladies. — ed]

“Peeps” was used ironically, but, like, no one knows that

ILYM = I love your mom, which all of my friends wrote.


*CHOIRE SICHA, co-editor of The Awl:


*JENSEN KARP, Owner of Gallery1998 in LA; host of “Get Up on This” podcast:

It was hard to even send you the image of my senior quote once I realized it was a Scarface quote. I’m like a walking episode of Cribs where Bonecrusher walks you through his house, past the shark tank and into his bedroom, where there’s a picture of Al Pacino in a Hawaiian shirt, sitting front of a mound of coke, on his wall. Also, I weirdly look like a Middle Eastern pager salesman in my senior photo. YES, two gauged earrings.

Also, I was up for all the great Superlatives, like “Best All Around” or “Most Likely To Succeed,” and only won the two shittiest on the ballot [Biggest Flirt and Biggest Gossip]. It was rumored that the girl that I shared Biggest Flirt with had a sex tape circulating that was filmed without her consent. When you’re 17 years old, I guess that means you get voted Biggest Flirt. Now that I’m 33, I realize that means you call the police.

*NICOLE CLIFFE, former Hairpin Books editor, co-editor of the forthcoming The Toast.

Looking at my yearbooks, I am filled with envy for my hair and my lack of pores. I felt fat 100% of the time (fat is not actually a feeling), but I don’t look fat in the pictures, I look like a baby. My hair was so shiny. I am over a decade older, and I look worse now, but I feel so much better about myself. I was cute, and I wrote Monty Python quotations in everyone’s book. Different ones. I wanted to be an Anglican priest, but only because I didn’t know I could be a lady-blogger. I fell in love with every boy in my International Baccalaureate group. There were six of them, and I alternated which one I was in love with, unrequitedly, every three months. I did the same thing with the members of Monty Python, except for Terry Jones (sorry, Terry!) and Graham Chapman (gay.) I also fell in love with each of the Kids in the Hall, except for Scott Thompson (gay), as though THAT was the main barrier which would keep our love from blooming. I fell in love with 70% of my male teachers, and I was most in love with a beautiful blonde girl from choir who made me mixtapes of Catatonia, a Welsh rock group. I never told her, but she probably knew, because I always asked her to tie the little green tie we all wore to concerts. High school girl love has altered not a jot from the 19th century girls’ school novels. “The Pluckiest Girl in the Sixth Form,” “The Luckiest Girl in the Fourth Form.” They all sound like Doctor Who episode titles. I’ve been in love many times since, but I’ll never love anyone with the same painful confusion as I loved the blonde girl from choir, and I still think of her when I hear Catatonia’s Cerys Matthews duet with Tom Jones on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I now realize that song is a PUA manual, but it makes me want to touch someone’s hair, and say: “it’s so soft! what conditioner do you use?” and hope she knows I mean: “I want to go live in Wales with you on a little farm and read Wuthering Heights to each other by firelight.”

*CARRIE FRYE, former managing editor of The Awl:

My perm was IMMENSE.

*RACHEL FERSHLEISER of Tumblr, Housing Works, Six Word Memoirs, etc.:

My beloved Edward R. Murrow High School Costuming Design club spelled both my first AND last names wrong.

*JANE HU of The Awl and elsewhere:

In all my high school yearbook cameos, I’m singing. I was, unfortunately, not just a theater kid, but a musical theater kid. Chamber choir and vocal jazz groups were okay and all, but I was in my element most when twirling a parasol to a Gilbert & Sullivan ensemble number. At one point I seriously considered giving it all to pursue a life on Broadway (my drama teacher said give it ten years and if it doesn’t pan out by then, quit), so it would be utterly wild for 17-year-old me to know that I’ll be applying to English literature graduate programs this fall. Academia! When I was skipping classes to pound out Sondheim in a rehearsal room! To my near shock, however, I did manage to get accepted into a post-secondary institution, which prompted the following announcement during my graduation: “Jane Hu will be attending McGill University this Fall to double major in neuroscience and English literature.” Hahahahahahahahahaha.

*JEAN GRAE, rapper:

I’d love to [share]! Except… I dropped out of high school in my senior year. Ha ha! Showed YOU, EDUCATION!!! However, my favorite yearbook picture is my elementary school flick. Also a gang of other great stuff in that yearbook. I went to a charter school in the West Village, soooo…. We also had to state our careers. I look very snide and it just says “entertainer.”


I was just a name on the last page. They’d arranged it so that an entire page was just me and Adam Z. Two tiny thumbnails on an otherwise blank page. No superlatives or quotes or anything. I looked like shit, though, that is for sure.


“One thing I can tell you is you got to be free. –Lennon McCartney.” I don’t know why I chose that quote. I probably thought it was a little edgy and not cliché. (The kid to my right, I see, had the “life moves pretty fast” line from Ferris Bueller. Shoulda gone with a classic.) More notable, though, is the senior portrait that I did not select for the yearbook page. In one of the poses, the photographer had me sit on a bench, and prop my elbow up on the back. For some reason he wanted me to rest my hand on my shoulder. I guess I wanted to get things over with, so I went with it, and I’m very grateful that I did: just look at that phantom floating hand. Whose hand is that? Is it really mine? I’m still skeptical.


Looking at this page makes me feel smiley because of my smiley face signature, confused about why I didn’t change my legal name to reflect my lifelong nickname sooner, and squirmy about my frenetic list of extracurricular activities (highlights: “Second Place Cheer Extreme Routine,” Bronze Medal in Honors Algebra II, lots of musical theater and the painful editorship of my evangelical K-12 school’s 400-page yearbook, which by senior year my friends and I were stuffing with an un-Christlike amount of gossip and rude inside jokes). I am bored by my boring quote from a song by Colin Hay, the former lead singer of Men at Work: “Don’t you understand, I already have a plan… I’m waiting for my real life to begin.” But I’ve had the same face I was a toddler and otherwise, aside from my sincerity level and the “Angeli” thing, I have to admit that I haven’t really changed one bit.

Previously: Daisy, You’re a Drip, Dear: Detestable Literary Characters Who Are Not Technically Villains

Ester Bloom apparently believed that, “when I look down, I just miss all the good stuff, and when I look up, I just trip over things.” Follow her @shorterstory.

(We, the mortified, invite you to share your own mortifying quotes in the comments.)