PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With recent national recognition for their 2020 yearbook, students at Presque Isle High School feel an even bigger commitment to telling the unique stories of their school community and giving everyone a finished product that makes them proud.
While the school’s yearbook, known as The SHIP, was recognized by Jostens for its cover design in 2019, this year marks the first time that Jostens has honored all aspects of the publication. The 2020 yearbook is featured in Jostens’ annual “Look Book,” a 304-page collection that honors yearbook photography, cover and page designs, storytelling and themes from schools across the country.
Students who were part of Marcie Young’s yearbook class during the 2019-2020 school year were responsible for not only creating the yearbook but also collecting $9,000 in advertising from local businesses, creating designs, writing stories and photographing school events.
They chose the theme “That’s Just Who We Are” and focused most stories on experiences that make Presque Isle High School students unique.
Stories in the 2020 yearbook range from that of sophomore boys who snowmobile together throughout the winter to a student who interned in U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office in Washington, D.C. There are features about freshmen students on the cross-country team and one about the first girl to wear a tuxedo in the senior fashion show.
Young said that focusing on individual stories rather than just the typical school events like pep rallies, dances and sports games has helped the SHIP stand out over the last several years.
“We focus more on the fine details of who these people are instead of just the background colors and the word fonts of the yearbook,” Young said. “The schedule of the school year is the same every year, but the people are different and each class’s story is unique.”
Typically the yearbook staff begins planning the next publication before the current year’s end and they finish in mid- to late March, just in time to sell books before graduation. The final two weeks of work for the 2020 yearbook coincided with the start of the pandemic lockdown, forcing Young and her students to complete their work remotely.
Much of the 2020 yearbook does not mention the pandemic, due to the timing of the book’s publication. But the staff managed to sneak in pages that feature quotes from students, capturing their initial reactions to the lockdown.
“A lot of people were excited because we thought we were just going to have an early spring break. We thought we’d only be out of school for two weeks,” Emily Straetz, a sophomore on the yearbook staff, said. “It’s funny now to look back at how excited we were.”
Their commitment to capturing the uniqueness of each school year inspired the staff to choose the theme “What Matters Now” as the theme for the 2021 yearbook. Many stories will chronicle students’ journeys through a year that has involved social distancing, modified school sports and events and reconnecting in-person after months of remote learning.
Students both new and familiar to the process of creating yearbooks said that the Jostens recognition gives them more motivation to have storytelling be their main goal. They are also learning how to succeed in the often intense work that goes into creating those stories, from designing an eye-catching book cover to keeping their eyes out for often unsung members of their school community.
Delaini Huston, a soon-to-be graduate of Presque Isle High School, noted that after years of not being part of the yearbook staff, she finally joined last fall. She said the experience of designing the cover has made her more grateful for all the hours, during and after school, that make great storytelling possible.
“Last year I didn’t know anything about what goes into the yearbook, but this year I’ll be able to look at it and say, ‘I made the cover’,” she said.