The best and the brightest of years

20th November 1998 at 00:00
THE FIRST high school year book I ever saw belonged to an American friend at university. In those days of the early seventies, before the endless round of horror films and sorority "comedies", there was still something faintly exotic about the whole American routine of year books, senior proms and homecoming queens.

I skimmed through the pages of mid-western farm faces, the German and Irish surnames, boys and girls with shining eyes and severe haircuts: they seemed so adult and definitely foreign to anything in my own experience. They had soubriquets like "The girl most likely to succeed" and "Outstanding sportsman".

Beside six of the boys were small inked crosses. "Friends of yours?" I asked. He nodded, and then there seemed to be tears in his eyes. I suddenly realised that Tim Lynch and Herbie Wexler and the others were the ones who had never returned from Vietnam. They didn't look so old any more.

So in the early eighties when my sixth-year guidance group approached me with the idea of a prom and year book, I was caught in two minds. It was an idea that seemed to belong to a different time and a different place.

Since then, of course, proms and year books have become fairly standard in Scottish sixth years. Indeed "School pupils sick on hotel carpet" has become a hardy annual for some local tabloids, always keen to show their interest in matters educational. But the vast majority turn out to be a tribute to senior pupils' organisational skills and self-discipline, and a fitting farewell to six years of secondary education.

Our latest sixth year's year book arrived in school in September. They had delayed its publication so that they could include photos from the prom, a dazzling affair on the banks of the Forth in late June, with girls all in evening dress and boys all in full Highland dress.

They looked stunning and brought a lump to many a teacher's throat. Tales were recounted, in some cases back to primary days, and thanks were given for help received. No one was out of order, no one was drunk. It was one of teaching's magic moments.

Looking at hundreds of pictures in this professionally produced publication, reading the words of description, finding out how the quiet ones had a wilder social side, and how the wilder ones had unsuspected depths, was to remind oneself of that famous hidden curriculum.

Now I envy our pupils their year book, for it gives them the chance - for the rest of their lives - to recapture that frozen moment when everything was still possible.

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