Why Libertyville High's 2020 yearbook won't have senior quotes

Concerned about the potential inclusion of offensive remarks under seniors' yearbook photos and the significant labor needed to catch them, Libertyville High School's principal has decided the 2020 Nautilus will break from recent tradition by not including senior quotes.

Principal Tom Koulentes announced the change in late August, three months after two quotes deemed offensive accompanied photos in Highland Park High School's 2019 yearbook.

Thorough review by Libertyville's yearbook team has prevented publication of unsuitable quotes, Koulentes said. But the time it takes to do that job, and the resulting anxiety, has become excessive, he said.

“Reviewing the historical and pop-culture references, checking the meaning of inside jokes and innuendos and ensuring that all of these are appropriate is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible,” Koulentes said.

Mark Plunkett, the Nautilus' two-time editor in chief, agreed with the decision.

“While senior quotes was a great way to express the thoughts and feelings of a graduating class at the end of the year, it is important to also acknowledge the risk,” Plunkett said. “The feelings of those who may possibly be hurt by quotes ... are much more important.”

‘A huge task'

As at schools nationwide, the Nautilus is produced by a class with a faculty adviser. Students handle the design, content creation and editing.

Beyond the adviser, administrators don't review the book before it's printed. But every senior quote submission is reviewed by multiple administrators, as well as yearbook editors numerous times, Plunkett said.

“(It's) a huge task,” he said of the vetting process.

The use of senior quotes is an old tradition, but its practice varies in the suburbs.

They've appeared in the Nautilus annually since 2016 and in the yearbook at Libertyville's sister school, Vernon Hills High, since 2015.

Other yearbooks featuring senior quotes include those at Wauconda, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove and Naperville Central high schools. Officials at those campuses reported no incidents of offensive remarks being published.

“Any quotes that seem ‘off' are highlighted,” Naperville Unit District 203 spokeswoman Sinikka Mondini said. “The yearbook sponsor or school administration will track down the student or a student mentioned in the quote to ask about it and discern meaning.”

The Mundelein, Stevenson, Wheeling, Palatine and Neuqua Valley yearbooks are among those that typically avoid senior quotes.

Naperville North's yearbook staff usually doesn't collect quotes but did for the 2019 edition because the theme was “Power of Your Voice,” Mondini said. They are not planned for the 2020 volume.

Libertyville's Koulentes tackled the issue, in part, because of the Highland Park High controversy. Koulentes was principal there until 2018.

The offending quotes — one with reported ties to Nazi leaders — were discovered in May after most books had been handed out. School officials temporarily halted distribution and used stickers to cover the text in remaining volumes. They also offered free stickers to teens who'd already received books.

The gaffe garnered much media attention. Highland Park High leaders haven't yet decided if senior quotes will be in the 2020 yearbook.

Koulentes discussed the matter with the Nautilus staff, yearbook adviser Kristen Connolly and another administrator last month.

Koulentes learned staffers catch 20 10 25 inappropriate submissions each year. Additionally, students have asked for quotes to be changed or removed after the book has been submitted for publication but while pages still can be modified, he said.

The internet has worsened the problem, Koulentes said. Sneaking inappropriate quotes past editors has become a social media game for some teens, he said.

“There are multiple websites featuring inappropriate or insensitive yearbook quotes that can tempt individuals to try to mimic or surpass what they have seen others do,” he said.

Nightmare moments

After some deliberation, Koulentes opted to can the quotes. The stress of finding them and the potential damage are too great, he said.

“These moments can be a nightmare for all involved,” Koulentes said in an email to families explaining the change. “We have seen students accused of bigotry, others offended and hurt by their peers. We have seen staff members blamed for not recognizing coded messages that caused harm on their watch.”

Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 Superintendent Prentiss Lea supported the change. A decision is pending for the 2020 Vernon Hills yearbook.

Will more act?

This isn't just a Chicago-area issue. Yearbook quotes deemed inappropriate, including a Confederate battle cry and separate remarks attributed to Adolf Hitler and President Donald Trump, have triggered outrage in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Arizona and elsewhere.

Given these scandals, the Nautilus' Plunkett expects more schools will stop printing senior quotes. It's in a school's best interest to eliminate the practice to “preserve not only their image, but the dignity of minority groups and others,” he said.

And quotes aren't the only yearbook element causing problems.

This past spring, the Oak Park and River Forest High School yearbook was reprinted after photos of students making a hand gesture that's become a symbol for white nationalists were discovered before distribution.

The new edition replaced the objectionable pictures with different images. It cost nearly $54,000 to produce.

Koulentes knows eliminating senior quotes will disappoint some Libertyville students. But he insisted teens should be able to preserve memories of their time together without destroying the yearbook staff's work and “risking harm to our unity or reputations.”

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  Senior quotes from a 2008 suburban high school yearbook. Libertyville High School is eliminating senior quotes in its yearbooks. Jeff Knox/
Libertyville High School Principal Tom Koulentes
Copies of Libertyville High School's 2019 Nautilus yearbook. The 2020 edition won't feature senior quotes for the first time since 2015. Courtesy of Libertyville High School
  Libertyville High School's 2020 yearbook won't feature senior quotes for the first time since 2015. Principal Tom Koulentes made the decision to eliminate them, in part, because of controversies at another Lake County school. Steve Lundy/, 2018
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