Capturing High School Senior Year Memories
The final year of high school – a culmination point for seniors with lots of “last times,” celebrations, and looking forward to next steps. Then, throw in the emotional smorgasbord that accompanies this year. The overall experience can be part exhilaration mixed with sadness, accomplishment alongside a bit of anxiety, and maybe – at the end – some relief that the milestone was achieved.
As a parent whose two children have graduated already from high school, I remember the range of emotions I felt during their senior years. My daughter Rachael graduated first, and I realized quickly that I wanted to help her capture memories of this special year. For example, I researched photographers and then scheduled a senior photo session, my husband and I made sure we attended any activities she was involved with, and she and I planned a graduation party. We even squeezed in a family trip over winter break before she started college. After that year, I knew she wouldn’t always have the same school breaks as her brother.
The following year my son Ryan started high school, and I wanted to capture memories for him, too. Like with his sister, I scheduled his senior photo session, we attended all his activities, and we paid for senior-year apparel. But his senior year was also different for two big reasons: his graduation would be the end of our family’s close connection with their high school and his last three months fell at the start of the 2020 COVID pandemic lockdowns. That meant no final band concert, no senior prom, and no graduation ceremony. (More details below on an alternate graduate event that parents organized.)
My friend Cathy, whose daughter Harper is now a senior, is facing this coming year with mixed emotions. “I am primarily feeling excited and happy for what we believe will be a great year,” Cathy said. “Harper has loved high school and continues to be enthusiastic about her senior year, so her enthusiasm is contagious. But – she is an only child, and I realize how short a time we have left before college and how empty our house will be without her physical presence and without all of the activities we have enjoyed supporting her in.”
It's a similar reaction from my friend Laurie, whose son Matthew is now a senior. “I am filled with pride touched with poignancy!” Laurie told me. “He is our youngest and the baby of my cadre of college friends. I remember thinking soon after he was born that 2024 seemed a lifetime away! Not that it is on our doorstep, we can see that he is looking forward to a memorable year and feeling a quite normal mix of trepidation and anticipation for his next steps.”
Whether you are the parent of a senior, the actual senior student, or a friend or family member, how can you record this special time and make it special? Here are some tips and ideas that I’ve used and friends have shared with me.
Tip 1: Get organized to not miss high school senior year memories.
At the start of senior year, take note of important dates There will be senior-specific ones you may not have worried about before. Also, check in with your senior often to stay up to date on activities that you may want to attend – such as sporting events, concerts or art shows, initiation and awards ceremonies and/or banquets, Homecoming parades, and pre-prom photo sessions.
Make a list of interesting facts to capture for the year – anything that would be interesting to reminisce about in 30 years. You might document your senior’s class schedule and teachers; organizations, sports teams, and clubs; awards and other recognitions; group of friends; common expressions; hobbies/interests, likes/dislikes, and other favorites; and the cost of common items like food items, movie tickets, or clothing items.
Tip 2: Take LOTS of photos and videos.
Don’t forget those “first day” AND “last day” photos! Your senior may think they are corny, but these snapshots in time are so fun to look back at later.
Encourage your senior (some are reluctant!) to at least have a senior photo taken for the school yearbook. Watch for information from the school about when these photos are taken; it’s often during the summer months just before senior year kicks off.
Besides a yearbook photo, consider setting up a photo session with your senior to capture more moments. These sessions can include different outfits, locations, and even the interests of your senior. Both of my kids have senior photos with the musical instruments they play, for example. It’s also an opportunity to capture some of their personality – such as wearing cowboy boots, standing by their car, or sitting next to a pile of books. Check out Pinterest for lots of senior photo ideas. You can hire a professional photographer, enlist the help of a friend who has a keen photographic eye, or take the photos yourself.
With the high-quality cameras on cell phones now, it’s so easy to take photos and videos at almost any time of the day or location. Senior year is the perfect time to take extra photos and videos of the big senior year activities but also the little things about your senior’s life – hanging out with friends, favorite fashion trends, doing homework, practicing a musical instrument, playing with the family pet, or working at a part-time job.
Check out any photo sites that the high school or different athletics or student groups may have online. You can often find photos of your senior to download.
Photos can be the start of many creative projects for your senior. You could fill a photo album, create a photo book or scrapbook, or invite your senior to print some of the photos to decorate their bedroom or dorm room. I created a photo book for my daughter using Shutterfly and then had the hard-bound book printed. It was like a mini yearbook of her senior year. My favorite part was the title page, which included a photo I took of Rachael on the last day of her junior year with a sign that stated she was officially a senior. I also included a special message on that page explaining how proud of her I was.
If you are active on social media, share those photos and videos! My friend Nicole, whose son Isaac just graduated, told me she posted photos and videos on Facebook because they will pop up as memories year after year.
Tip 3: Commemorate senior year and the graduate.
Throughout the year, there can be lots of ways to commemorate your senior. Some traditional ways include adding achievements to a letter jacket, sending graduation announcements, posting graduation signs in your yard or window, and throwing a graduation party. Other schools, like the one where Laurie’s son attends, has a full week of activities for the seniors’ first week, including a “chalk the walk” sidewalk-decorating event the night before school starts and then a “watch the sun rise on senior year” breakfast in the school parking lot on the first morning.
Encourage your senior to be creative about ways to make their senior year fun and special. Cathy shared that as an older mom, the traditional stuff rings true with her. “But Harper and her friends have some fun ideas that I would never have thought of as well. They are meeting the night before school starts to decorate their cars and having breakfast together [on the first day] and then parking next to each other in the senior lot.” Harper and a friend also purchased a pair of jeans to use as a “canvas” of sorts to document their year. First, they are painting 2024 on them and then will add drawings of events and friends’ signatures throughout the year.
As a parent, get involved to help plan and run senior events. Or suggest an event and get other parents to help you with it.
As I mentioned earlier, Ryan’s senior year was cut a bit short due to the pandemic. When I heard some other senior moms were interested in organizing a parade during the summer so seniors could ride or drive in separate cars through the town, I jumped at the chance to help with organizing. While only about half of the senior class participated (even though all were welcome), the seniors did appreciate having some way to celebrate graduation.
Now that Laurie is retired, she is glad to have the time to volunteer at senior events and help with planning and other details. Volunteering, she said, “will have the side benefit of giving me access to behind-the-scenes memories, which is good because Matthew is a ‘don’t make too much of a fuss, Mom’ guy.”
Consider creating a senior year memories box or bin for the objects that represent these last months of high school. Include class schedules, report cards (or a printout if grades are sent online), special T-shirts, the graduation cap and gown, concert programs, award certificates, and other memorabilia. It will be a fun time capsule to look through in the future.
Host a graduation party if your senior wants one. My daughter wanted a party, but my son wasn’t interested (even before the pandemic lockdown). Decide if you want to schedule it for close to graduation day (perhaps if out-of-town family could more easily attend) or for a few weeks afterwards, which can also serve as a send-off party for college or other post-secondary education opportunities. Again, I recommend Pinterest for lots of grad party ideas.
Think about a special graduation gift for your senior – something that fits their interests or personality or can be used in whatever path they are taking next. (I still remember my high school graduation gift – a sewing machine, which I wanted to take to college with me to make clothes. Well, I didn’t have a lot of free time for sewing, but I did sew some curtains for my dorm room windows during my freshman year.)
My mom has made quilts for each of her five grandchildren, and they all took their quilts to college with them. A T-shirt quilt is another popular graduation gift. If you aren’t skilled enough with a sewing machine, check at a local fabric or quilt store for recommendations in the area, or you could try looking online. Just remember that making the quilt takes some time, so allow enough lead time if you want to give this gift at graduation – or consider a “gift coupon” for the quilt and have your graduate help select the T-shirts after graduation.
If your senior likes to travel, a trip to a new or favorite location could be a great gift.
A college-bound senior may need a laptop or tablet. Another senior who will be attending a vocational or trades program might need specific tools or equipment.
Perhaps your senior asked for a class ring or a special piece of jewelry as a graduation gift.
How ever you and your senior decide to capture the experience, I hope it’s a great senior year!
Do you have other tips and ideas for capturing high school senior year memories? Share them in the comments below.