The photograph is nondescript at first sight: slightly grainy, black and white. On the left, three students bend over a sheet of paper. Four girls sit around the other side of the table, calf-length uniform skirts grazing the floor. They appear to be engaged in a lively discussion. The year is 1958, and the manuscript lying on the table will soon become Singapore American School’s very first yearbook, the Islander.
That photo, and many others, lie tucked away in a corner of the Khoo Teck Puat library’s bottom floor known as the Archive Room, home to relics from school years past. The room is bright and spacious for its small size. Yet arguably the most interesting aspect about this place is the shelves that line each wall. Look to the left or right, and you’ll be greeted with a rainbow array that includes every volume of the Islander ever published.
From paperback to hardcover, school-wide to high school-specific, grayscale to full color, there’s no shortage of transformations the yearbook has gone through to become the polished, professional product that it is today.
But any staff member can attest to the fact that the Islander is more than just a few hundred pages of high-resolution graphics and text. Nor is it a club – the job of recording 365 days of student life requires a collective effort by the 20 high school students who take the Journalism Yearbook class.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing in the Islander’s history. In 1997, Mark Clemens became the yearbook adviser. Despite having a journalism degree, he recalled, “I had no idea what I was doing when I took over.” Neither did most of his students, when they first walked in the door.
On top of their inexperience, the 1997 crew had to chart their path through a time of technological transition. Mr. Clemens believes they were the pioneers of the digital layout, but back then they were armed only with Adobe Pagemaker (now obsolete), plus “two Apple computers, and limited access to a drop-in lab.” Of the two available cameras, one was broken.
A major breakthrough came when Mr. Clemens discovered that the advertising funds could be used for purposes other than promotion. He invested what little they had in rolls of film and a new Apple computer.
In subsequent years, he remembered, “The Islander students were the heroes…they built a large advertising base that allowed us to buy computers, cameras, scanners, printers, microphones and more.”
Over time, as Mr. Clemens and his students grew more familiar with their trade, they became the ones to drive change. Senior superlatives like “Most Athletic” and “Class Flirts” were quietly dropped one year.
Other adjustments were less well-received. Mr. Clemens said, “The most controversial changes involved reducing the number of senior portraits a page [from] two per page to three or four,” which prompted “calls from moms and…a couple of very angry kids.” Still, the editor Laurie Nelson stood firm in her decision, as did her staff.
Several years later, when Virginia Sheridan came onboard as a new adviser, she too oversaw more changes to the Islander. The “Student Life” section was expanded and organized chronologically by month, in order to “capture the year as it happened and as it was experienced by students, rather than clumping the year into artificial categories,” Ms. Sheridan explained.
The team of Islanders also experimented with a new dynamic. Rather than assigning separate sections to each individual, they worked in teams under the leadership of a section editor.
But Ms. Sheridan is quick to stress that the yearbook and its makers are no strangers to change. “Truth is, the Islander evolved every year…with the imprint of each unique staff, adviser and school year,” she said.
And yet, 60 years after Singapore American School opened its doors, the Islander remains one of the few constants in this ever-changing institution. Yearbook delivery day, which falls right around finals and graduation, is always an anticipated event.
Seniors Shreya Suresh and Erika Dinsmore are the Co-Editors of this year’s Islander Vol. 58. As veteran staffers, they have witnessed the growth of the Islander even in the short space of three to four years: higher quality of work, restructuring of roles, and the arrival of a new yearbook adviser, Robin Worley.
One thing that hasn’t changed is their shared conviction that the Islander plays an integral part in documenting memories. “For the SAS community, of course it’s a yearbook, something you can look back on,” Erika said. “But if you really think about it, a team of people has been recounting your whole year and putting so much [effort] into making sure that you remember your high school experience.”
The staff strives not only to cover large events, but also to capture them in specific detail, because, as Shreya puts it, “It’s all about that one person” who will want to go back and relive an event they deeply cared about.
Above all, the Islander represents collaboration.
“People in Yearbook understand that they couldn’t do a yearbook themselves,” Erika said, adding that “even the editors could not do half of the yearbook themselves.” After all, the collection of volumes in the Archive Room exist because of an ongoing effort – by the students, for the students – to record and preserve our history for years to come.