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The Argument Against Senior Quotes

| Yearbooks

Senior quotes are a bad idea for yearbook staffs – here’s why

One of a senior’s most anticipated traditions can become a yearbook adviser’s worst nightmare

Flipping through the yearbook at the end of the year is one of the many things that graduates look forward to and senior quotes are a time-honored tradition many seniors anticipate. 

In many yearbooks, seniors are encouraged to submit a quote that accompanies their graduation portrait. Typically, this quote is a reference to pop culture, a piece of advice, song lyrics, a religious reference, an inside joke, or something said by a celebrity. Many yearbook staffs and advisers tend to think it is a great way for students to share their personalities and life lessons with their peers.

Senior quotes are problematic

While senior quotes can be an enjoyable part of the yearbook, there are more than a few reasons why yearbook staffs should no longer allow them. This is a question that has sparked much debate in the yearbook community. On one side, some people believe that senior quotes are a tradition that should be upheld. On the other side, many people argue that including senior quotes can be dangerous and lead to censorship issues.

Inappropriate content

High school students are notorious for pushing boundaries and your yearbook is not the arena to allow them to test limits. Inadvertently including an inside joke or obscure reference is too risky to publish and there simply isn’t enough time in yearbook production to cross-check every single submission. Additionally, students have been known to submit quotes that appear acceptable and innocent at first glance but actually have a double meaning. As hip as you and your staff may be, no one is clever enough to catch all the innuendos. 

One of the primary concerns about senior quotes is that some may contain inappropriate content. Although all content should be checked by a yearbook staff member, editor, and yearbook adviser for appropriateness before publication, slips can still happen when hundreds of pages are being designed and edited in a short time. 

Every year, countless news articles circulate about inappropriate content being published in yearbooks. Of course, this is a very stressful situation for the staff and adviser who allowed it to be printed, but it can also be a very costly mistake for your program. Yearbooks are a commemorative item and are produced in limited press runs, which makes reprinting cost prohibitive. 

Yearbooks are student publications and mistakes are bound to happen, but allowing seniors to submit a quote is unnecessarily opening a door for mishaps to occur.

Not journalistic

When making content decisions, the yearbook staff must evaluate what makes something newsworthy by answering the following questions:

  • IMPACT: how many people are affected, and how seriously?
  • WEIGHT: includes how many & how seriously, but can also be measured by the depth of pain, shock, or how “out of character” or “unexpected” something might be
  • TIMELY: is it new? Is it happening now?
  • PROXIMITY: is it happening near us? Does our audience have personal connections to the event?
  • PROMINENCE: is the event surrounding someone/something particularly famous or in power?
  • CONFLICT: two or more entities are opposing one another
  • NOVELTY: particularly interesting or intriguing, not something you hear of every day
  • USEFULNESS: information that the public needs to navigate the world

Senior quotes do not fulfill any of the above criteria to be considered newsworthy, and therefore they have no journalistic value.

Limited real estate

Another reason why yearbook staffs might choose not to allow senior quotes is that they can take up precious space that could be used for other sections such as photos or class memories. Some yearbooks are already jam-packed with so many sections that there is limited space left over for things like senior quotes or dedications. If this is the case, then it is probably best to save space elsewhere and focus on more critical sections such as candid photos or important events from the school year.

Lackluster participation 

While most students are likely to submit a quote, many yearbook staffs struggle to get involvement from the student body. This makes designing spreads even more difficult, as there will be awkward spacing and empty areas to account for. 

Limited bandwidth

Finally, some schools do not have enough student staff available to work on things like scanning and editing senior quotes. Even though most teenagers have access to technology these days, there may not be enough time to put in the extra effort needed for this section every single year. This puts too much strain on a small team of editors who are already doing a lot with limited resources.

Alternatives to senior quotes

Most senior quotes include sentiments from sources outside of your community, so shift the focus back onto your student body. Encourage your staff to look for ways to commemorate the senior’s high school experience in a meaningful way, such as

  • Senior Feature – in the folio on each page, highlight a senior’s accomplishments, clubs, organizations, extracurricular activities, etc. 
  • Favorite Memories – include a spread that showcases only seniors and interview them about their favorite memories, either generally or specifically ask for their favorite teacher, hangout, sporting event, school dance, etc. 

If you are unable to prohibit senior quotes altogether, consider phasing them out slowly over time. This will allow your community to get used to a new norm, as well as understand the expectations. With very clear guidelines and a strict deadline, you may find that the community isn’t as enthusiastic about senior quotes as it seems and it will be easier to remove them the following year. 

  • Provide clear guidelines and expectations on the submission form
    • What’s allowed/what is not
      • Be sure to properly cite your quote
      • No profanities, slang, vulgarity, obscenity
      • No abbreviations, acronyms, creative spelling
      • Nothing that could be considered offensive, questionable, or inappropriate for a school setting
      • No references to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, sex, gangs, etc. 
      • No language that denigrates another person’s character, ethnicity, religious/political beliefs, sexuality, gender, physical or mental ability, etc. 
      • No derogatory comments about the school, students, faculty, or staff members 
      • No special characters/emoji
    • Disclaimers
      • Please type your quote exactly as you want it to be printed. If there are grammar or spelling errors, your quote will not be added to the yearbook.
      • The yearbook staff, adviser, and administration reserve the right to refuse a quote for any reason without notice
      • Have students sign off on an agreement that their submission is within their quote before submitting it for review and they may be subject to disciplinary action if the quote is found to be inappropriate
    • Have a firm deadline (and enforce it)
  • Create a clear and detailed procedure for the approval process
    • Who is in charge of
      • managing the submissions
        • which ones have been approved/rejected
        • which ones have been used & on what page
      • approving the submissions
        • student staff –> editor –> adviser –> administrator
    • What happens if something isn’t caught?
      • Pre-written statement/apology/explanation to community
        • Who does this come from?

How to get rid of senior quotes

Get your administration’s support

As the adviser, it can be difficult to shut down your staff’s ideas, because you do not want to crush their enthusiasm. This topic is especially challenging because senior quotes are such a well-loved tradition by the students and community alike.

It is wise to discuss the situation with the administration beforehand, and come up with a plan to address any community backlash. Come into the conversation with your reasoning and be ready to offer solutions. 

  • Main reasons
    • The potential for inappropriate content to be published is too high
    • Logistically, there is not enough time to vet each submission
    • There is no way to ensure appropriateness for submissions that may have a double meaning
    • They do not add any inherent journalistic value to the publication
    • Difficulty in gathering content from students. The people pushing for them to stay may be louder, but likely not the majority.
  • Secondary reasons – less important to administrators, but may be worth mentioning
    • Better ways to use the space
    • Design issues

Additionally, this can be tricky to navigate because you may not be able to prohibit senior quotes without administrative support. As a student publication, the editors are responsible for all content decisions. Be sure to double-check the laws in your area regarding prior review. 

However, it is your job to educate your students about how to make content decisions by determining if something is newsworthy. Lead them in a discussion with guided questions that allows them to explore the potential consequences of their decision.

This is one of the very few circumstances where most advisers would encourage their administration to exercise their right to prohibit content, citing that the content in question may “materially and substantially interfere with the operation of the school.” (Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969)

Are senior quotes worth it?

It’s important for all involved parties including the adviser, administrators, and student staff alike to carefully evaluate the situation before making any final decisions about whether or not senior quotes should be allowed in future years’ editions of their school’s yearbooks. It’s tough to break tradition, but at the end of the day, allowing senior quotes just isn’t worth the liability.