Fun With Yearbook Searches

June 2, 2016 · CLASSMATES FUN

You’ve got the country’s largest yearbook archive at your fingertips. What can you do with it? If you’re like most people, you’ll probably start by looking for yourself and others in your class. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. It’s possible to lose yourself for hours just browsing. Trust us on this!

Here are some of the things we like to do when we’re exploring the archive:

Peek at the early lives of celebrities

1. George Clooney: Science Club Vice-President

They may seem glamorous and inaccessible to us now, but most celebrities were still undiscovered in high school and were typical teenagers. Some of them rocked big hair (check out Brooke Shields in 1983). Many participated in club activities, just like thousands of other students (George Clooney was in the Beta Club, Drama Club, and Science Club). There are over 200 celebrities to be found in our archive. Just keep in mind that some (Jon Stewart and Nicholas Cage, for example) changed their names along the way. Click here to see our growing list of celebrity yearbook pages.

Look up other people you know

2. You can never unsee those short shorts.

Do you really know what your parents were like as teenagers? Sure, you’ve heard stories, but a quick glance through our yearbooks can provide more evidence of what they were really up to. There are millions of people who can be found in our archive who are not members of your class. With the largest library of yearbooks online, it’s easy to search for friends, co-workers, grandparents, and more. But be prepared. You may catch yourself thinking, “Wow! Uncle Bob wore some short shorts in high school!” Or you could discover someone’s high school hobby and come up with a killer surprise for their next birthday present.

Check out changing fashions

3. Mullets: “Business in the front. Party in the back.”

Hairstyles, prom dresses, team uniforms, shoes, etc. Teen styles have changed dramatically since the oldest yearbook in our archive was published (over 100 years ago!). While Buzz Aldrin strutted through campus in a suit and Betty White stayed conservative in a high-collared dress, standards have gradually loosened over the decades as school environments (and society in general) have become more casual. Start browsing, and you’ll see everything from t-shirts and jeans to skirts and pearls, with lots of interesting outfits in between. The 1984 Dekalb High School yearbook shows Cindy Crawford was still the most fashionable…even then!

View the outside world through students’ eyes

4. “One giant leap for mankind”

Defining moments in history leave big impressions on those who live through them. As teenagers, we were occasionally hit hard with a reality unlike anything we’d known before. Do you remember when you heard about the space shuttle Challenger exploding? The world of high school could seem like a cocoon, but sometimes what was going on in the outside world had a big effect inside school walls. From presidential elections to natural disasters to popular movies, a yearbook is like a time capsule, providing a window into a moment in history. Yearbooks have captured events that have been causes for celebration, as well as shocking moments that have forever bound together those who remember them.

Yearbooks also serve as records of what was popular in any given year: movies, TV shows, snack foods, etc. If you want a snapshot of teen life, a yearbook can be a great resource.

See how advertising and businesses have changed

5. “How many more ads do we have to sell before we can pay for this thing?”

The humble yearbook ad. Every volume has at least a couple of pages of them, but what you’ll find browsing through yearbooks might surprise you. (Did you know Merle Haggard’s record studio sponsored the 1976 Highland High School yearbook?) While today’s retail landscape seems to be dominated by companies like Amazon and Target, things used to be much different. Take a peek at the ads from 90 or even 25 years ago, and you’ll see how American consumerism and business have both changed. As we’ve learned from Mad Men, advertising really does reflect societal trends and cultural shifts.

See how the life of a high school student has changed (and stayed the same)

6. Wally Cleaver and Brandon Walsh have more in common than you might think.

No matter how many years it’s been since graduation, you probably still remember things like waking up early, trying to find the right books in your locker, searching for your friends in the cafeteria, and cheering on your team from the bleachers. You’ll find that, over the years, while the clothes and cars may be different, there are some common experiences that bond pretty much all high school students together. Try searching “day in the life” or “typical day,” and you may see what we mean.

Explore Hall of Fame/Superlatives categories

7. “Most Likely to Trip at Graduation”

We’re with Jimmy Fallon on this one. Superlatives can be very entertaining (and, as is the case with some celebrities, they occasionally foreshadow people’s future lives). While most schools stick to traditional Hall of Fame categories, some get more creative. Among those we’ve spotted:

  • Craziest Drivers
  • Mr. and Miss Loquacious
  • Most Dignified
  • Tightest Jeans
  • Messiest Locker
  • Most Likely to Have a Psychic Friend
  • Worst Complainers
  • Most Likely to Trip at Graduation
  • Best People to Take Home to Mom
Research the changes in school clubs and activities

8. “I’m only doing this because it will look good on my transcript.”

Did you participate in any clubs when you were in high school? Joining clubs and activities can be a great way for students to get involved and to make new friends (and it usually looks good when you’re sending out college applications). Most schools offer a number of options, with common activities involving school subjects, hobbies, and the outside community.

Some of the more interesting clubs we’ve come across in the archive:

  • Skateboard Club
  • Taxidermy Club
  • Young Men About Town
  • Wargames Club
  • O.P. (Poetry of Popular Music)
  • Pipe Club
Get swept up in the world of prom queens and kings

9. The voting. The drama. The outfits. The crowns.

The brief but powerful reign of prom kings and queens. Some people spend weeks campaigning for votes. Others are caught by surprise when elected. Whatever the circumstance that turns ordinary students into royalty, there’s a pretty good chance that there will be at least one moment of awkwardness somewhere between the crowning ceremony and the first dance.

Curious if some of your favorite celebs were crowned Homecoming Royalty? Check out the this list. Some might surprise you.

Check out senior traditions

10. Seniors rule.

It’s the last month of your senior year, and graduation is right around the corner. Before you get your diploma and move on to your next adventure, though, there is some important stuff to take care of. It may have nothing to do with academics, but it sure adds to the culture of the school (and usually the morale of the students).

Senior wills: A part of being a senior is the legacy you choose to leave behind. Senior wills are a way for seniors to make one last statement about their high school experience and are frequently a way to bond them with those still remaining at school after they graduate. They can range from the sentimental to the silly to the esoteric.

Senior pranks: Some are epic, some are destructive, and some are just goofy. Like them or not, senior pranks are a way for a graduating class to work together on one last project – and, if all goes according to plan, to leave something that lives on in school legend. (Check out our article covering some of the best high school pranks we’ve heard about.)

For a quick tutorial on yearbook searches, click here.