Say, 'Cheese' West Linn-Wilsonville seniors
It's a typical school picture day, but for a handful of seniors in West Linn-Wilsonville high schools, it's become tradition to spice up their apparel, recreate their kindergarten photo, throw on a wig, or dress like a celebrity.
Yet for the WL-WV School District, this seemingly harmless tradition can present challenges, especially with student safety.
Both West Linn High School and Wilsonville High School principals say they don't want students to disguise themselves to the point where they're unrecognizable because it's the first photo that goes to law enforcement in the case of an emergency and it's an important resource for school staff to identify students.
For years, seniors — excited to exit their home of four years — have been dressing up for school photos in a different way. Some portray a look that is the exact opposite of their personalities, while some dress goofy for the sole purpose of following a tradition with an unknown point of origin but national appeal, as many schools across the United States are experiencing the phenomenon.
The photos — taken by the photography company Lifetouch — are used for student ID cards, the school's official student records and yearbook pictures if students opted out of taking additional senior photos.
WLHS senior Ashley Hayter heard about the tradition last year because she was friends with seniors. On picture day, she remembers her friends planning their wardrobes. One of her friends wore extremely dark makeup and didn't smile, and her older brother made an awkward face and middle parted his hair — looks that were unusual for them.
And while Hayter chose to wear bright red lipstick and a massive cheerleading bow in her hair this year, she saw other students who had to remove their head pieces, sweatbands and other distracting items.
"It'd probably only cause issues with the school if they can't tell it's you in your ID card and occasionally the Lifetouch photography people weren't as excited about participating as we were," said WHS senior Honour Colby, whose attire was inspired by Steve Jobs. "We all participate because school photos are never good in the first place, so might as well do them how we want to as seniors. It's just something that's generally known; seniors do it in schools everywhere."
WHS senior Madeline Schaaf wanted to bring school spirit to her photo. She wore a wig, glasses atop her head and lipstick — all blue.
"It's a really fun tradition that some students participate in because it shows individuality and it symbolizes the fun that is coming our senior year," Schaaf said, adding that the photographer tried to make her remove her wig, but a teacher vouched for her, saying kids dye their hair as a form of expression and it wasn't distracting.
WLHS senior Calli Masters put on bright purple eyeshadow, did her hair in high buns and wore a cat sweater. While her goofy outfit was appropriate, she saw a photographer make one of her friends wash off their face paint.
"I'm all about kids having a little bit of fun, however, I'd like to keep a sense of respecting the moment," WLHS Principal Greg Neuman said. "We prefer kids don't wear hats or hoods so we can see their face. It's a record for what kids look like."
Currently WLHS schedules school picture day before school starts, which often results in less teacher supervision. On the other hand, if picture day is during the school day, staff say it distracts from learning time. WHS Principal Dan Schumaker said about two years ago, the school started having picture day during school because students were often absent prior to the start of school.
He said there are administrators wandering around, making sure students aren't taking outlandish photographs. He also added that Lifetouch is in sync with what an appropriate photo should look like and the photographers will often retake the photo or make students remove a certain accessory if it's too distracting.
Students shouldn't distort their face with face paint, funny faces and accessories like sunglasses to ensure staff can identify the student.
"We have become more conscious of our practices around safety. That's been a district focus in the last couple years," Schumaker said, adding that photos are also used for electronic seating charts, which could confuse substitute teachers if the photos don't resemble students accurately.
While there are students who participate in the goofy senior photo, Schumaker said it's less prevalent than in previous years and it's rare that a student gets away with distorting their face beyond recognition.
Ultimately, Schumaker views this tradition as a way for seniors to unite and participate in a light-hearted activity — as long as they don't take it too far.
"Our seniors really take care of each other. As they've gotten to their senior year, they feel the sense of, 'We've been through this together,'" Schumaker said. "It's about togetherness."