Two years ago, a group of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their teacher worked together to finish making a yearbook after tragedy.
This year, some of the same students are putting out another yearbook, again, under circumstances that are anything but normal. The coronavirus pandemic.
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The last time the yearbook staff at Stoneman Douglas saw each other in person was over a month ago.
"This class especially has gotten screwed over so much through the past four years. And the last two months were supposed to be the best, and they were supposed to make up for everything we've been through," Caitlynn Tibbetts, 18, said. She goes by Cat, and she's this year's co-editor-in-chief of the Aerie Yearbook Staff.
"It's really hard on us to kind of just watch it all disappear and really, you know, have to wait in limbo."
They were supposed to be dancing together at prom, walking across the stage at graduation.
Tibbetts is one of the 10 senior students on the yearbook staff now, who were also on staff two years ago when a gunman opened fire at their school. They had to step up and help with extra writing for some of the other students who were going to funeral after funeral.
"We had to completely finish hundreds of pages within the last two months," Tibbetts remembers. "I just had to quickly turn out stories for anything that we were missing."
This year, on Friday, March 13 – with growing concerns about the coronavirus spreading – the students had a feeling they wouldn’t be coming back to school before the deadline to finish the yearbook.
Alexandra Sullivan,18 is the staff profiles editor.
"I remember, we were trying to get as many pictures of people as possible because we knew wouldn't be able to take anymore," Sullivan said. "Everyone was just running around with cameras and camera batteries and SD cards."
The students rely on the guidance of their yearbook advisor, Sarah Lerner. Lerner also teaches senior English and an introduction to journalism class at Stoneman Douglas.
"I said in class on the last day, I had them all … I stood in front of all 33 of them and that's what I talked to them about – and I impressed upon them, how much work we had to do," Lerner said. "These kids don't know what a normal yearbook experience is, because the most senior members of staff: Their first book was the '18, book. Now they've had to make two books like this. I mean, not the same circumstances, but your feet are to the fire and you've gotta get this book done."
Lerner considers her seniors almost experts at the art of adapting.
"It's the same sentiment, that we're all coming together to finish this book," she said. "Having done one under unthinkable circumstances before, I hate to say that we're kind of you know, used to it — but for the seniors on staff — we are."
Now, it's about adapting to a different kind of unthinkable circumstance: Trying to stay safe — and keep their family and friends safe — and still get a yearbook done, during a pandemic.
"This book has to get done and we'll do whatever we have to do to finish it — which is exactly how we approached the '18 book," Sullivan said. "It wasn't even a question."
Tibbetts said one thing they’ve changed is they've made room for two spreads in the yearbook to cover the coronavirus:
"One of them is more of a factual-based one, how it's affected our community including businesses, and the other spread is focused on the effect it's had on us personally, both with online schooling and especially with seniors," Tibbetts said. "Even though it's a different type of hard, and a different type of situation we've changed ourselves, and changed the way we work."
After the shooting, they worked on the book at school together. This school year, even though editors have had the option to work remotely, now they all have to. Their schedules are all shaken up. They're online at different times, asleep at different times.
At first, the gravity of it was hard to grasp. In the beginning, with school out, they still thought they could get together to work on the yearbook.
"Our original plan was to actually have meetings and stuff, we didn't really realize how much corona[virus] was going to impact our ability to meet and talk to each other," Tibbetts said. "We have to social distance, and our parents wouldn't let us go out. … We have a group chat with every single person on staff. It's how we're able to get quotes from different people in different grades – and, yeah, it can get hectic, especially when it's all happening at, like, 12 a.m."
Lerner said, the original deadline to finish the yearbook was April 6. With the coronavirus, that didn't happen.
"I'm just turning it in when it's ready," Lerner said. She said the staff expect to finish the book this week.
Lerner said the printing company, Walsworth Yearbooks, is trying to be flexible. With Stoneman Douglas, and schools around South Florida as well as the rest of the U.S.
"Unlike the 2018 book, this situation is not unique to us," she said. "So there's comfort in knowing that all staffs are going through the same issue, it's not just us."
With the theme for the yearbook this year — Tibbetts and the other staff were trying to create an identity for themselves beyond the shooting that happened at their school.
"This isn't the year after anything," Tibbetts said. "This is a new separate year, and a lot of changes happening to us with our new principal, our new administration."
The theme they came up with: "We've got this."
"Even when things don't go our way, we've still got this," Tibbetts said. "And we've still got this confidence and these amazing students and programs."
Once the yearbook actually gets done, an order of 1,250 copies actually have to get to students. Though, there's one tradition they might not be able to save this year:
"As a teacher I really like to get my students to sign my book, you know, and I like to sign theirs and I like to see the kids carrying them around at school," Lerner said. "That's the hard part, that we may not actually get to sign books this year."
Yearbook has played a formative role in both Cat Tibbetts and Alexandra Sullivan's time in high school. After finishing her last class, Sullivan is headed to the University of Central Florida, potentially to study advertising and public relations — she's still deciding.
"I want that to be our legacy that we leave behind, that everyone who is making a book for the years to come loves it as much as we do and shares that with everybody else on their staff," Sullivan said.
Tibbetts is headed to Boston University to study business and communications.
"After the shooting, I cared about yearbook 1,000 times more than I would have if I hadn't been on that staff for that year," Tibbetts said. "And this year, my love and my passion for yearbook has grown so, so much – for everything that this comes with."