Some Things Really Do Last Forever

Georgia Rosenberg '19, Editor in Chief

We’ve all been subjects of the same speech: the one that highlights the eternal existence of social media posts.

We’ve been told to think before we post something or hit send, because there is no such thing as a real “trash” on the internet. While this may be true and worthy of our attention, recent national news points us to a different permanent source of danger: the yearbook page.

Rarely do we take the time to think about the everlasting nature of something as archaic – and literally physical – as one’s yearbook page. Giving students – whether at the graduate, college, or high school level – the opportunity to leave their mark on their very own page of the school yearbook is an age-old tradition. Our unwavering focus on the potentially detrimental implications of social media posts has steered us away from considering the permanence of these pages.

The resurfacing of the medical school yearbook page of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) should remind us that we can’t forget that there are other things – even those that may appear antiquated – that really do last forever.

Last weekend, a photograph of Northam’s Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook blew up the internet and the news cycle. The page contains a picture of two men: one wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe and the other appearing in blackface.

When he initially responded to the surfacing of the page, Northam accepted responsibility, stating that he in fact did appear in the photo, though he could not recall which obscene, racist attire he wore.

The next morning, however, Northam reversed his claim. He stated that he is not shown in the photo, which is printed below his name and next to three individual photographs of Northam. More recent news suggests that Northam intends to hire a private investigator in an attempt to prove that he is not depicted in the picture.

While politicians across the nation – democrats and republicans alike – have urged Northam to step down, arguing that no apology or attempt at reconciliation can erase the despicable nature of the photo, Governor Northam has maintained that he will not resign. He has chosen instead to attempt to regain the trust of Virginians, of whom there are many African American voters who once supported him.

Northam’s situation is a prime indication of the ways in which ignorant decisions – no matter how long ago they were made – can come back to haunt us. Evidently, Northam had a flawed value system that led him to believe that publishing this photograph below his name – whether he’s in it or not – was acceptable.

Yearbook pages are intended to represent one’s character, experiences, and contributions. The fact that Northam once saw this photograph as an accurate portrayal of his character reveals his major moral flaws.

Brett Kavanaugh’s hotly debated nomination to the Supreme Court also demonstrates the powerful permanence of the yearbook page. During his confirmation hearing, senators held up posters of Kavanaugh’s high school page, which they considered to be relevant to a broader investigation into high school-era allegations of sexual assault against the now Supreme Court Justice.

Kavanaugh’s page contains blatant references to a heavy drinking culture – “100 kegs or bust” – and what some believe to be more subtle allusions to the high schooler’s disrespect for and objectification of his female peers.

While some young students may believe that their actions will not result in negative repercussions, Kavanaugh and Northam make clear that what we choose to publish as a means of representing ourselves and our character will never be fully erased.

At SLS, senior students are given designated yearbook pages, on which they are free to put pictures, shoutouts, quotes, and notes of gratitude. As the Class of 2019 completes this process, we should turn to the national news as an example of just how permanent these pages can be.

Social media only serves to multiply the possibility that the pictures we take and words we write as teens and young adults may one day compromise our integrity. But let’s not forget that even more outdated means with which we portray ourselves – even yearbook pages – can lead to the very same thing.