Margaret Lee browsed through Wakefield High School's just-released yearbook and recalled a half-century ago when she was art editor of its very first yearbook: Days turned into late, long nights immersed in pica rulers, rubber cement and black-and-white photographs.
To the yearbook staff gathered around her now, the only thing in her description that sounded familiar was the time commitment.
And for Lee, who sits on Wakefield's 50th-anniversary committee and who was visiting the Arlington County school Friday to drop off pictures, that was about the only thing that still seemed familiar. The computer screen before her displayed the contents of a compact disc -- video images, audio clips, extra photographs, articles -- that is tucked into the back of each printed yearbook. For the first time, the book itself was published entirely in color.
This year, Wakefield joined a growing number of schools across the country that produce a yearbook for tech-savvy, tech-hungry teenagers. The yearbook's supplemental CD-ROM allows viewers to choose what they want to see (the homecoming court, a special assembly) or hear (the field hockey team's giggly rendition of Wakefield's fight song) with the click of a mouse. Photos and collages flash to a musical score.
Wakefield is one of only a handful of schools in the Washington area with a CD yearbook, but several other yearbook staffs said their publications changed in other ways. Like Wakefield, some schools this year printed their yearbooks in color for the first time. Others have shed the superlative contests -- the ones that rate the best-dressed, the best-looking, the funniest -- though a few eventually brought back the contests. Many staffs developed elaborate systems to make sure the "popular" students didn't dominate the book -- and that all cliques, and students who belong to none, were represented.
"In our yearbook room, we have a list of all the students in the whole school," said yearbook Editor Christen Fratter, 17, a senior at Chantilly High School. "We try our best to do a highlighting and check system. If a person has been covered once, they get a check mark. Once they have been covered three times, they are highlighted and you can't use them again."
Inclusion, editors often discover, requires a lot more photos -- another trend in yearbook production.
"MTV has had a big impact on the way the current generation visualizes things," said Edmund J. Sullivan, director of the New York-based Columbia Scholastic Press Association, which represents about 1,800 newspaper and yearbook advisers. "They expect things to be bright and colorful, fast-paced. It's okay to be crowded."
The association discourages the superlative contests. At Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, however, students revived the contest this year.
More noteworthy, adviser Jennifer Poness said, was that the $70 yearbook at Churchill -- which is called "Finest Hours" -- went to a full-color format this year. "The kids really seem to like it. It gave it a fresh new look," Poness said. At the beginning of each section, "we decided to do full-page openings with a glossy, shining look. Everyone was drawn to that."
Last year, Wakefield adviser Scott Beach, an accountant before he became a teacher three years ago, decided to survey students on their yearbook-buying habits. Most said they would settle for a smaller book if it meant a cheaper price and more color pictures. Together, the CD and book are $49.50 if ordered in advance.
"Yearbook sales are a challenge," Beach said. "We have 65 nationalities in our school. Many children do not even understand what a yearbook is."
Because of language and cultural barriers, Beach said, immigrant students might prefer visual images and a CD-ROM to preserve their high school memories.
"Writing a lot of text can be a big challenge," he said. "What they like are lots of pictures. They kept saying, 'Mr. Beach, things in our world are all color.' "
High school media associations said CD yearbooks have been around for about a decade and are being replaced by DVD yearbooks. But few schools are doing away with the hard-bound book just yet.
"For the most part, it's not surfacing as a replacement for the yearbook but more as an interactive supplement," said Ann Akers, associate director of the Minneapolis-based National Scholastic Press Association. "Some of the advisers have been around long enough to remember video yearbooks. Now most of the people don't even have the technology to play that. There were some in Beta before."
Advisers also said that as cool as digital yearbooks might be, they don't allow for something even cooler to teenagers: their friends' signatures.
"In the East, you'll find much of the emphasis is on signing the book," said Martha Akers [no relation to Ann], who has advised Loudoun Valley High School's yearbook staff for more than two decades. On the West Coast, many schools deliver their yearbooks in the fall, long after the seniors aren't around to sign books anymore, she said. But in the East, she said, "when we think of the end of school, we think of yearbooks."
Across the area this month, teenagers have been busy scrawling smiley faces and abbreviations -- often in the style of instant-messaging -- to each other. "HAGS!" they'll write. (Short for: "Have a great summer!") But there are also the timeless standards: "Don't ever change!" or "Friends 4ever!"
In Arlington, Beach has noticed that girls tend to muse longer over the inscription than boys do. His yearbook staff fought to add several blank pages in the back of the book for signatures. Close friends can take up to one full page for messages, known as "shout-outs."
The theme of this Wakefield yearbook is "Redefined: In Living Color." That also is the title on its cover, though the annual's official name remains "Starstone," a term taken from an image in George Washington's coat of arms.
That first Wakefield yearbook might have been different inside and out, but Lee said signatures were as important then as now.
"It's always a status thing. The people that weren't popular didn't have their yearbooks filled with signatures," Lee said. "There were no computers in 1955 . . . but the kids are the same."