If you’re laughing right now, you’re part of my problem. If you’re think, “these are funny, stop taking it so seriously,” you’re an even bigger part of my problem.
If I don’t take my job seriously, who will? I refuse to see what I do as a joke.
My job as yearbook adviser is to first teach my students how to produce a work of solid journalism through photography, writing and design; second to produce an accurate record of the year for the entire student body; third to sell yearbooks (this is big business after all); and last, but not least, to teach all humans I come across to be kinder to each other and to learn to love each other better, two goals that sound different but are really the same.
So any superlative that makes anyone feel bad goes against ALL of those goals. Solid journalism tells the truth, rumors are never accurate, hurting people hurts sales, and kindness and love are the opposite of cruelty and shame. I want every single person to look at the yearbook and think, “I loved this year. I was happy. I love my school.” Mean superlatives ruin that.
I also don’t think superlatives mean anything. About 100 students of 550 or so return their ballots. The winning kids usually receive about 25 votes, probably entirely from their circle of friends, who they convinced to vote for them. So it’s a small group of kids, voting for each other and locking in these titles. Some superlatives mean even less. The Best Ride winner, for example, really should give that award to his parents.
So much has been eliminated in the worthy goal of protecting children. Just yesterday my fourth grade daughter was telling me about a game they played in PE class. It’s basically dodgeball, which is banned, so they have renamed it scatterball. If it’s wrong, just stop it. If you don’t think it’s wrong, do it and own it, don’t hide behind name changes.
I own it: I allow superlatives in the yearbook, for two reasons.
First, all people, but teenagers especially, want to both blend in and stand out. They don’t want to be different, they just want to be a slightly better same. Being Most Likely to Be on Broadway or Cutest Couple doesn’t make you weird, it means you are the best, most something. I don’t mind letting kids self-identify the best actor or artist, or the one who is on social media the most, or the cutest best friend pair. I never allow superlatives that can be interpreted negatively in any way. This year I eliminated the proposed Biggest Chatterbox. It’s not mean, maybe, but it’s certainly not kind. I also eliminated Worst Case of Senioritis. I guarantee the kid who wins, whose failing most of his classes, isn’t proud of that deep down. Ultimately, letting teenagers stand out for their skills and accomplishments after 13 years of school, in a sea of 550 classmates, is OK with me.
Second, it’s tradition. I know, I know, tradition is the worst reason to do anything. Except when it isn’t. Traditions are what bind one generation to the next, what make one high school different from another, what make ALL high schools the same. Many awful traditions have been dropped over the years. This one, when managed correctly, can stay.
Full Disclosure: I didn’t win a superlative in high school. I thought I had a shot at Best Eyes but my BFF Megan Hauck won. Her eyes are gorgeous and I wasn’t bitter then, and I’m certainly not now. And I haven’t thought about it since, until today when I wrote this post and forced myself to plumb my feelings.