I am going to share with you something that is deeply, profoundly personal. It’s something I had buried years ago in my mind. I wanted to physically bury all copies of this relic at one point, but my mom wouldn’t allow it. Long story short: I’d forgotten about this, but in the days of social media, none of us are safe from our parents finding dark artifacts from the past and sharing them with the world. Brace yourself. Here is what I saw when I checked my notifications this morning.
….Oh….oh Jared…What happened here? Well, the year was 199…1(?), and it was school picture day. Now, there’s plenty to dissect here – horizontal stripes, tinted glasses, jeans that are let’s say, “relaxed fit.” But those glamour stars in the background are truly the piece de resistance.
Why would I vouch for this background that seems to be missing a unicorn or something? The early 90s was a magical time when dinosaurs came to life on the movie screen and your school pictures could look like they were taken in front of a space-laser battle. So what I expected when I checked the “starfield” box as my preferred background while standing in line in the Bartow Elementary gymnasium was something closer to:
Aw heck yeah. Once digital editing became commonplace, most kids my age ended up with pictures where the background was replaced with what I would today describe as a screen-saver sorta deal. But back then it was freakin’ awesome.
But school picture day, like life itself, doesn’t always go as planned. I remember being so embarrassed weeks later when the prints came back. What was I going to do with these freaking glamour shots? Nevermind that there wasn’t much for an eight-year-old to do with pictures, regardless of how they came out.
The thing is, that’s really part of the value of the whole School Picture Day tradition. In the last decade or so, we’ve become a society more obsessed with pictures than ever before, with social media making amateur photo-journalists of us all. It’s tempting to think you don’t need a “school picture” in a year where the concept of “school” is loose at best. But take it from a nerd who aimed for the laser grid and landed among the stars, having a set memento of a certain time just hits different than a regular ole’ insta post. (Even if you’re not crazy about the results at first).
This is true for parents as much as it is kids. Take the best picture of me ever taken, for example:
That was my peak, it’s been downhill since. I would like to congratulate myself on somehow throwing some side-eye while still staring directly ahead. Here’s the thing, though. My mother hated this picture. She didn’t tell me that at the time; I was a child, that would have been damaging. But growing up means if you have cool parents you get to become friends with them, and then you get to catch up on all the gossip about you from when you were a kid.
Now, I don’t know why Mom didn’t like this picture…maybe it’s ‘cause I look like a huge dork, but that’s something she always appreciated about me. Regardless, she wanted to have them retaken. Fortunately, Nana took her by the hand and said “Jan. Don’t you dare change that. One day it will be your favorite picture of him.” And Nana was right. To this day this is the pic that Mom keeps on her desk at work, and it’s her absolute favorite. My guess is that this pic is documentation of when I started becoming the guy I am today. It’s the first time my “okay, whatever” attitude really came shining through.
So don’t just take a school picture, celebrate how awkward, weird, unexpected they are. In a time when we spend twenty minutes capturing moments “for the ‘gram” it will mean more to have a memento of our kids and families as they are, not how we curate them on social.
To celebrate National School Picture Day, Lifetouch will be creating America’s Yearbook -a digital compilation of user-submitted pictures capturing the spirit of picture day. For 84 years, Lifetouch has been shaping yearbooks featuring all the things that make school pictures so memorable, from fads to goofy expressions. You can submit your favorite throwback school pictures for a chance to be featured in America’s Yearbook on Oct. 5. Then a few select winners will receive free school pictures, yearbooks, and school supplies for the school of their choice! It’s a great way to celebrate where we’ve been, and all the goofy unexpected places we’ve yet to go.
Submit your favorite school pictures here.