In Praise of the yearbook Offered by your private boarding school in Texas

School Updates

“A yearbook is a love letter a school writes to itself.”

This line comes from author Pat Conroy’s famous tribute to a school’s yearbook, which he compares to a “shining novel” that tells the whole story of one year in the life of Texas K12 private schools. “It is one of the most important books you will ever own,” Conroy concludes, “because it contains all the memories and dreams and anxieties and sorrows and triumphs of this single year of your life.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Conroy.

Some of the Academy yearbooks that reside in the Alumni Director’s Office.

Yearbooks have always intrigued me. I enjoy looking through my parents’ books from the 1950’s and being amazed by how young they looked. Mom in her cheerleader uniform . . . Dad celebrating a big win in basketball . . . their youthfulness frozen in time, providing for me a peek into the lives they led and the adventures they enjoyed long before I came along. I am equally fascinated by my old high school yearbooks (I was a San Marcos High School Rattler, Class of 1981). All I have to do is open one up, and the memories come flooding back. Hair styles, life-long friends, teachers whom I loved and admired . . . all of it tucked into those mostly black and white volumes. Sometimes I walk by that bookshelf in my house and can’t help pulling one out and flipping through the dog-eared pages, lost in reverie.  

[Below are a few of the pictures of me from my senior yearbook . . . each smile represents a memory.]

Although I attended San Marcos High, I worked during the summers at San Marcos Academy–back when the school was located on its original campus. One of my summer assignments at SMA was switchboard operator, which meant I sat in what was basically a small closet, answering the phone and punching the wires to connect callers with other departments. (Those old enough to remember Lily Tomlin as Ernestine the telephone operator will get a visual of those “ringy-dingy” days!) 

Because this was quite possibly the most boring job in the world for a teenager (long before cell phones, gaming devices, or personal computers), I spent time in between phone calls looking through the Academy’s yearbooks. Through them, I learned about the school’s remarkable history and the about the changes that marked each passing decade. Cadet uniforms first appear in the 1918-1919 volumes. In the 1926 yearbook is a photo of my grandmother, Mildred Smith Harper, who drove in from Martindale her senior year in order to graduate from the Academy. In the books of the 1930’s and 1940’s, I learned about the impact of the Great Depression and World War II on our school. The books of the early 1960’s, some of my favorites, show a campus that was home to more than 500 boarding students. The later books of that decade include the faces of young men who were called to war after graduating; some, sadly, would never return, yet the photos from their high school years will always be enshrined in those pages.

Fast forward to 1991, when I joined the faculty of San Marcos Academy to teach journalism. At the end of that school year, my staff and I produced the first of 15 yearbooks that I would eventually sponsor. The responsibility of documenting the history of that first year felt huge to me. I wanted that book to live up to the standard of all the volumes that had come before. I took my role as adviser seriously and am proud of the books that the students and I produced in those years. As I moved on from teaching to other roles on campus (communications mostly, but also admissions), I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to work on a yearbook again. Then, low and behold, I ended up back in the classroom this year to supervise the 2022 Crest. 

So much has changed where the production and design of yearbooks is concerned. But the purpose of a yearbook has changed very little over the years. Yearbooks are story books. Picture books. Reference books. They document history and capture rites of passage. They record memories of those youthful years that many will look back on and recall fondly as some of the best and most impactful of their lives. 

The 2022 Crest will be just such a book. Our staff is working hard to capture the voices, the images, and the events that are making this such a special year. Don’t let your student miss out! Parents, take a moment and buy a copy of the Crest while you can. Once the school year ends, we will place our order and the chance to purchase a book will have quietly passed. Due to costs, we do not order many extra books, and the few we get sell out fast.

For those who have read through this blog, I thank you for allowing me to reminisce and share with you why yearbooks are important to me. In fact, if you’ve gotten this far, I have a little treat for you. If you have not ordered your book yet, you can use this code through March 20 only for a $10 discount: YEARBOOKBLOG. We need to sell at least 100 books in order to cover the costs of production, and we are still several books short of that goal, so we are celebrating each and every sale! All orders can be placed through the Yearbook Central website and our school code is 6836.

If you have already ordered a book, thank you for doing so! If you would also like to purchase a personal ad to honor your son or daughter, send me an email ( that mentions this blog, and I can send you a discount code for your ad. Ads can be ordered through the same Yearbook Central link

yearbook, poster

Our Crest staff thanks you for your support, and your student will thank you one day, too, when he or she pulls out that 2022 Crest and looks back on those good old days at San Marcos Academy.

–By Shelley Henry, Crest Yearbook Adviser and SMA Communications Director