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The high school classes of 2020 and 2021 will always stand out for their unique senior year experience. We’ve had to invent new ways to celebrate graduations the last two years including drive-by graduations, yard-signs, social media, and of course, Zoom.

Making sure Seniors stand out and receive recognition for their achievements has a long history, one that Virginia high school yearbook staff accomplished in several different ways over the decades. Senior pictures have become a tradition, the drapes and faux tux, larger format, and color photos setting them apart for underclassmen. What one person sees as tradition however can appear as pointless restrictions to others. But over the years yearbooks have not stopped at just the photos. Here are just a few examples of methods found in our Virginia Digital Yearbook Collection.


In recent years, social media has been obsessed with funny quotes from witty seniors. The practice of putting in meaningful or humorous quotes has a long history. Some of the earliest Virginia public high school yearbooks in our collection include selections made either by the seniors themselves or chosen by someone else to describe them. The Chittum siblings from Spotswood High School took the opportunity to show just how different twins can be in the 1958 volume of The Spotlight.

Pet Phrases

What about quoting yourself? Many yearbooks include the catchphrases of their seniors. In older yearbooks especially this can be a fun time-travel journey through older expressions and exclamations.

My new mantra is definitely, “If you can’t dig me don’t” but I might also pick up “Ye gods and little fishes.”


Your catchphrase can say a lot about you but sometimes there is space to introduce yourself in a slightly more elaborate fashion.

If you only had a few lines to describe yourself or a friend, would your swimming habits be on the top of the list? It seems that Kenneth Edward Beach’s friends in Hopewell High School’s 1952 The Kaleidoscope, thought it was important. Maybe it had something to do with his last name?


Whether you choose them or you are given them – nicknames can also be very revealing. “Shortie”, the nickname given for  Fannie Burten Barnes in I.C. Norcom High School’s 1926 yearbook seems pretty self-apparent but that might not always be the case.

You can draw your own conclusions regarding some of these from the 1963 edition of the Trojan from George Washington Carver High School.

Adjectives and Activities

Many yearbooks in the ‘40s and ‘50s provided three or four adjectives to describe each senior’s personality, or you could let your clubs and activities tell a little about what interested you.


Or instead of defining yourself by the present, what about your dreams for the future? Although this is not as common now as it was in the past, it is still apparent that women’s ambitions have opened up dramatically in recent decades.


Sometimes you just want to pack as much information as you can into a little space – and the spreadsheet like “Statistic” pages allowed many schools to do just that such as this one from the The Islander, Poquoson High School, 1957.

Since 2012 the Library of Virginia has been working with public libraries, LYRASIS, and IMLS to digitize Virginia’s public school yearbooks. Although we were unable to add many volumes in 2020, we have already added 50 books this year and over 300 others are currently being scanned.

These are just a portion of some of the fun features we found. Join us again next Friday for more images. Until then you can always browse the offerings of the Virginia Digital Yearbook Collection.

Jessi Bennett

Digital Collections Specialist

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