Just ’cause I haven’t written about Seventies yearbooks in a week or two doesn’t mean the jag has subsided.
In all those words I’ve spent writing about the trove of Seventies high school yearbooks on archive.org, I never got around to writing about my favorite.
(It wasn’t the one with “Stairway to Heaven” laboriously transcribed on its front cover … though that one is pretty classic.)
No, I think the most interesting is probably the 1975 annual from Thompson Academy in Boston. It’s a ticket to a distinct time and place, where a bunch of unique circumstances meet and collide.
First, the setting: Thompson Academy was a former vocational school turned college prep school for inner-city boys, built on an island in Boston Harbor and accessible only by boat. So, not your usual sprawling suburban school campus with rows of handed-down Chevys parked out front.
(It’s not every yearbook that, in reviewing the senior class’s four years, includes as a highlight “the yurt was built.”)
1974-75 also happened to be the school’s last year in operation after 160 years, which lends a certain poignancy to the proceedings. Everything shown or described in the book has happened for the last time.
The casual reader doesn’t have much chance to wallow in nostalgia, though, because contemporary time and place keep inserting themselves.
1974-75 was the school year when forced busing erupted in Boston, and South Boston in particular.
If you look through the profiles of Thompson Academy’s senior class, about half of them are white kids from Southie, while much of the other half are black kids from somewhere else.
Some of the Southie kids are loud and proud about it, or at least one gets that impression by the “SOUTH BOSTON” T-shirts and hockey jerseys they just happened to wear on school photo day. Not to mention the tam-o-shanters.
In their senior wills and testaments, several of the Southie kids cite “busing” among their dislikes, while several of the African-American kids cite “South Boston” or “ignorant South Boston freaks” as their pet peeves. Some of the kids specifically name their fellow students among their dislikes, too; they seem more likely to cite kids from the opposite group, though this is not absolute.
This lends a bit of a jagged edge to the yearbook — you wonder how often these conflicts flared up on a day-to-day basis.
Every high school yearbook has a couple of grumblebunnies and malcontents who make it clear they can’t wait to get out … but most yearbooks don’t make you question whether the senior class would have split into halves and pelted each other with rocks and bottles if given the chance.
(There’s one white senior — not from Southie, for what it’s worth — who openly lists “racism” among his likes. Either he was an unrepentant ass, or he was walking a very fine line of deadpan sarcasm understood in context by his peers. I can’t judge without having been there … but, at any rate, you don’t see that in every yearbook, either.)
And yet — lest we slide toward overdramatizing matters — there’s evidence that these kids liked each other. The farcical picture of the Weightlifting Club, for example, finds whites and blacks cheerfully flexing their underdeveloped guns together.
There’s a great sense of Seventies swagger in the individual senior bios, too.
There’s the kid who lists his future occupation as “Intellectual Player” … the kids with righteous nicknames like Seahawk, Superscore, and Segundo Diablo Abraxas … and the kids who list their likes as “big legit money,” “Superfly rides” and “rum and rootbeer.”
The yearbook suggests the possibility that these kids did what kids do in high-pressure situations: They found ways to coexist, and let out some of the pressure from social situations that tied their elders into knots. Thompson Academy could have been a war zone … but it doesn’t appear that it was.
This is one of the rare yearbooks I’ve seen (not that I’m a connoisseur or anything, but I’ve seen a few) that really make you wonder what it would be like to spend a day or two there.
One thought on “The last boat off the island.”
Well, everyone seemed united by the disdain for the food ….