Upgrading a Yearbook Tribute, Tradition
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Since 2000, it has been a Bruno family tradition. To mark the graduations of their three children, father Len would compose a poem, mother Jane would gather the photos, and together they'd celebrate with an ad in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School yearbook.
This year's entry was a tribute to their youngest child, Nina. In it, Len Bruno wrote: "A pitiless opponent who fights to win; A sister sweet, a daughter true; A love, a wonder, not many like you."
Sentimental and sometimes a bit silly, personal entries like the Brunos' have become one of the most popular -- and lucrative -- features in today's high school yearbooks. At McLean High School, which began offering ads to seniors and their parents for the first time this year, the staff quickly sold out of their eight pages of allotted space.
"I think it's probably typical of our generation,'' said Len Bruno, who also wrote poems for his children's birth announcements. "The way kids are the center of our lives, it's another chance to show kids how much you love them."
And, it's a chance for schools to make money.
At Bethesda-Chevy Chase, a full-page color ad is $275. At Walt Whitman High School, a full-page color ad sells for $395. No need to rely on soliciting ads from the local tuxedo shop or florist when mom, dad or the kids will foot the bill.
Ads are not a new concept. But a generation of parents not shy about celebrating their sons' and daughters' accomplishments -- and teenagers eager to put their own spin on the yearbook tradition -- have given the personalized entries new polish and new life. And at some schools, where the privilege of placing a personal ad in the yearbook is reserved for seniors only, there's a dash of prestige as well.
"In the yearbook, we decide how to present things for the students,'' said Cynthia Skelton, yearbook adviser at Whitman High School. "But here is the chance for parents or students to decide how they want to present things. They get to focus it all on their kid. They just have a lot of freedom.''
These are no cut-and-paste, rubber cement collages. The advent of digital photography and software such as Photoshop allows students and parents to create sophisticated photo collages that may incorporate family vacation snapshots, baby photos and inside jokes.
"We're a personalized society. We have everything from our own ring tones to anything else you can think of,'' said Rich Stoebe, director of communications for Jostens, one of the nation's largest purveyors of yearbooks and class rings. "We want to make it ours. I think the ads really kind of fit into that bigger trend of personalization.''
Parents and students acknowledge that the ads are a bit indulgent, and probably more likely to pop up in yearbooks at campuses with more affluent students.
"This is a generation that decided to be friends with their children, and they spend a lot more money on their children than the preceding . . . generations of parents,'' said James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, a Boston-based marketing strategy and research firm. "The bottom line is that the indulgence factor is more than myth. Parents are spending more. Children are spending more."