Youthful summers in my hometown — Amsterdam, New York — were always special. I recall many general experiences like sucking on popsicles, walking to the playgrounds, and swimming in the “new pool,” a huge public pool that opened, I believe, during the summer before tenth grade. I also vividly remember specific summer experiences, experiences that occurred well over 50 years ago.
I remember chipping a front tooth while playing outdoor basketball on the South Side during the summer before my junior year. During the following summer, I recall my first full-time job as a factory employee carrying supplies throughout a blistering hot building, a job that convinced me that I definitely needed to attend college. And at the end of that same summer, I also remember having my photo taken for our high-school yearbook.
I’m thinking about my yearbook photo today because for some reason, many of my Facebook friends are posting their yearbook photos to honor the quarantined class of 2020. Quite honestly, I don’t see the connection, but I am enjoying seeing the old photos because they are sweet reminders of our youth and all the optimism and unlimited potential that my contemporaries and I possessed at that single moment in time. That yearbook photo is a memento that most of us have shared here in modern day America.
Having that photo taken in the late summer of 1968 was especially memorable because it was such a unique experience. Think about it. Back then, very few individuals actually owned cameras, and if they did, like my dad, they weren’t taking individual shots. Most pictures of me prior to age 17 included at least one sibling and, as the years passed, up to five siblings (all females, by the way).
In addition, every other photo of me prior to my senior sit-down included numerous teammates. And since I was always the tallest kid on my teams, I always had a reserved spot: top row, left, big, skinny kid with the glasses and the goofy smile.
So when I had to get dressed up with a sport coat and tie and also comb my hair for a serious photo shoot of just me on a hot August day, I knew this was a big deal. A couple friends and I walked downtown from our homes on Market Hill to the studio of our local photographer, Mr. Webb. I knew exactly where his studio was because it was tucked in behind the office of our family dentist on the second floor of a Main Street business, down near the pool hall and the bus station. As I recall, my friends and I were a bit too excited and loud, and Mr. Webb had to calm us down a bit beforehand.
Looking at my yearbook picture today, I see a naïve, impressionable, and innocent young man who smiled when told to do so and who looked off to the side just a bit, as directed. My light sport coat contrasted with the darker colors of all my classmates, and my smile shows off the new cap on the front tooth that had been chipped a summer earlier.
Did we have multiple shots taken that day, so we could choose the one we liked the best? I don’t honestly remember. I do know that I was pleased with the photo then, and I do enjoy seeing it again every five to ten years when the yearbook appears at our class reunions.
Obviously, yearbook photos have changed quite a bit through the years. Most today are in color, and many are not so formal. Instead, some schools allow their seniors to choose a unique location for their photos, a location that may reflect their favorite place or pastime or mood on that particular day. But I’m not sure that one unique yearbook photo today means as much to the recent graduates, especially with the proliferation of cellphone/cameras and social media. Our current seniors have probably been photographed more than any other generation before them. And that’s a good thing. I so enjoy seeing that same optimism in their eyes, an optimism that says “anything is possible,” even in our sheltered environments of today.
So if you have already posted your high-school photo on Facebook, thank you. I definitely love seeing those reminders of what we once were. What I’d really like to see next, though, are the beautiful faces of the class of 2020, faces that are currently sheltered at home but faces that we would all like to see more often.