A screen with a dozen anxious faces grew progressively tense as eight lines of text appeared. Instantly, almost as if on cue, each two-by-two panel erupted into cheer.
On Apr. 24, MN journalism students poured into a Zoom call where State Journalism results were being revealed on a shared screen. Among the dozens of categories announced was ‘Yearbook Theme Development’, a hotly contested event that reflects the culmination of work invested in a yearbook. For the first time in MN history, the Stampede yearbook won; however, the road to this success was riddled with obstacles.
As sports seasons and senior events were canceled due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the yearbook staff felt the prospect of their year-long endeavor slip away just as they were nearing the finale.
“When the initial cancellations occurred it was like shell-shock. It was an immediate hurdle we knew we needed to handle and handle fast,” senior and Editor-in-Chief Sydney Johnson said. “[We] decided we wanted to try and stick to our deadline as closely as possible so we could get our books out to the students as soon as possible.”
This commitment to the student body was a driving force for the team’s persistent motivation, even in the face of setbacks. As an inherently collaborative and social effort, completing the yearbook online and from home with limited access to interviews, photo opportunities, and staff members proved to be as uniquely difficult as the very pandemic that had shut down school.
“I think we’ve maintained the community through communication mostly. While it’s not the same as the hustle and laughter found in the yearbook room, everyone’s been in contact with one another through group chats and zoom to get the job done and keep in touch,” senior and Design Editor Megan Townsend said.
Just as the hardships of working remotely have been relieved through technology, the overwhelming presence of the virus and its effects have also provided a silver lining in the form of fresh yearbook content. With each activity canceled came an online or at-home alternative, and with each devastated student, a newfound positive outlook. The staff took advantage of these developments, tailoring multiple yearbook pages and much of the supplement to fit a coronavirus-themed high school experience.
“When rumors started going around about things getting canceled, it initially started as ‘how are we supposed to cover things that aren’t happening?’ but then turned into ‘how can we cover all this new stuff?’, so it definitely forced us to get creative,” senior and Layout Designer Adri Van Riesen said.
Even as ideas flooded in, however, another obstacle arose. No longer able to pull students out of class or attend events, the staff was forced to explore other methods of communication, namely, social media. One such social media effort featured Instagram stories asking seniors for quarantine pictures or embarrassing stories from high school, which were eventually used to fill a page on the virus’s effect on seniors.
As tough as months of crowdsourcing is, the team’s willingness to pursue any opportunity comes at no surprise. Hoping to do justice to the transformative few months that have passed, they had decided early on to push through for the sake of students and their historical experiences.
“Creating a yearbook from home is tricky, no doubt about it, but it’s still possible to put one together that’s quality,” junior and Directory Manager Katie Fulkerson said. “I think that as things kept getting canceled, we all realized how important this yearbook is going to be for people, and it was necessary for us to continue to work super hard even though we were no longer in school.”
With challenges overcome, a first-place win to their name, and an abrupt end approaching, one thing was still left on the minds of the staff: the conclusion to this year’s story.
“Distribution is my favorite part of the year because you get to watch all of your classmates receive the one thing you’ve worked on all year and see how they love it just as much as you do, so I’m really hoping we get to help out with distribution,” Johnson said.
Despite these wishes, weeks of consideration and health precautions shut down any chance of a typical team-led distribution. Instead, Adviser Sarah Crotzer and other staff members handed out the Break Through yearbook on May 19 and 20 to students driving through campus for material drop-offs and collections.
Nevertheless, Johnson and the team maintain that the yearbook community is unshakable and their enthusiasm undeniable.
“If someone were to walk into the yearbook room on a normal school day, they would be met with music, talking, a dry erase board filled with a million different words, students jumping from one computer to another, and me pacing around the room checking in and offering my help,” Johnson said. “This atmosphere we create year after year may look insane to anyone else, but it is our family dynamic.”