Disintegrating Quotes


Amanda Black

Due to the controversy caused by previous inappropriate yearbook quotes, Dr. Koulentes and the yearbook staff have made the decision to no longer include senior quotes.

Each year, LHS’s yearbook staff reports that between 20 to 25 quotes submitted by the senior class are removed for including inappropriate content. Consequently, the 2019-20 yearbook will not include senior quotes. Though many factors played into this decision, the largest motivator was the school’s desire to avoid seemingly inevitable harm.

The incident that sparked discussion about the topic at Libertyville took place at nearby Highland Park High School last spring. Before working at Libertyville High School, Principal Tom Koulentes held the same position at HPHS; his son graduated last year in the midst of the tumult caused by the controversial quotes.  

While my decision wasn’t a direct result of what happened at HPHS, that situation certainly weighed heavily on my mind as I processed this situation with our administration and our yearbook staff,” Dr. Koulentes shared via email.

At HPHS, two quotes deemed offensive managed to get through the filters of yearbook staff and school administration and were published in their yearbook. According to the Chicago Tribune, one of the controversial quotes read, “If you tell a big enough lie, and you tell it often enough, it will be believed.” Though attributed in the yearbook as “anonymous,” it is commonly associated with Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany.

Once the books were distributed, the quotes raised commotion among the predominantly Jewish community; these quotes caused the school to halt distribution of the yearbooks. It’s unclear which other quote was brought to the attention of the HPHS administration for offensive content.

When this story hit news channels, the LHS administration and Dr. Koulentes began conversations with the LHS yearbook staff about the issue. Dr. Koulentes explained the rationale for initiating these talks: “For us as adults, we were looking and seeing that these yearbook quotes had the potential to become something that really created a lot of division and negativity and pain in a school community at a time when it should be very joyous and celebratory.”

The decision to remove the quotes was not made quickly, nor was it solely the administration’s. “Before any decision was made, the yearbook sponsor (Ms. Kristen Connolly), [Student Activities Director Mrs. Jennifer Uliks] and I met with the yearbook staff,” Dr. Koulentes explained. 

“We told the staff our concerns, and we listened to their concerns—because quite frankly, there were some students on the yearbook staff who were also concerned about the quotes,” Dr. Koulentes said. “We came to a consensus that we would not be including quotes anymore in the yearbook.”

Dr. Koulentes emphasized that while the yearbook staff did have swaying power in the verdict, the final decision to eliminate senior quotes was his. 

Before making any concrete decisions, Dr. Koulentes ensured that removing senior quotes would not violate any free speech laws, including the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act. This state law, according to the Student Press Law Center, “provides that student editors are responsible for the content of their media. School officials can intervene only when the content falls within specific categories of unprotected expression.”

 “Before we made this decision, we checked with our district office, and we checked with our school’s legal firm, and we believe that we’re operating clearly within the bounds of the law and of student rights,” Dr. Koulentes clarified.  

While some students may believe that senior quotes are a long-standing LHS tradition, Ms. Connolly pointed out that they were an addition to the yearbook at Libertyville in 2016. So while they have been a tradition in recent years, it’s not a persevering tradition that’s been around since the beginning of the yearbook. 

The yearbook’s editor-in-chief this year, senior Mark Plunkett, added that he thinks when people heard about the decision to eliminate senior quotes, they made assumptions about the editing process. As Plunkett explained, there’s an elaborate process to edit senior quotes. 

“All the editors and our advisor run through [the quotes] at least three times, then it’s sent to Mrs. Uliks and a few other people at the administrative office, and they check over it, and then send it back to us. And [finally,] we check it an additional two more times.”

Additionally, Plunkett mentioned that getting seniors to submit their quotes was a difficult process in itself. Between waiting on initial responses and weeding out the inappropriate ones, this process takes up a significant amount of time. 

The time the yearbook staff will save by not including senior quotes allows them to focus on other aspects of the book. They’re aware that students are unhappy with the decision but haven’t let that affect their work ethic.

“The whole negative [response] isn’t really having a great effect on our staff as a whole. If anything, it’s making us work harder and make other aspects of the book more encompassing towards the seniors who did lose this privilege,” Plunkett explained. 

For example, there will be an additional spread in the yearbook devoted to seniors as a different way to pay tribute to the graduating class. In the Student Life section, this will include a story focusing on senior activities as well as a spread of photos from the year, Plunkett said.

In an email sent to the entire school, Dr. Koulentes expressed that he is happy to hear ideas for a different way the senior class could leave their mark on the school: “I’m open to thinking about what the senior class would want to do as a way to say ‘This is who we really are and this is what we stand for as a class,’” he wrote.

As an alternative to publishing senior quotes in the yearbook, Dr. Koulentes also brought up social media. He explained that virtually every student has some sort of social media account where they can attach their quotes instead. “If you learn that the quote you put in was hurtful to somebody, even though you didn’t intend it to be, you can immediately pull that down and put a new quote in; in the yearbook, you can’t do that,” Dr. Koulentes said.

Senior Jennifer Short also has a possible replacement for senior quotes: seniors could decorate their graduation caps. After seeing that nearby Mundelein High School seniors decorate theirs, Short wants to bring the tradition to LHS. 

“It just so happens that the year I’m a senior and was going to try anyways to make it happen, we got rid of senior quotes, so I think that decorating our caps could be a sort of trade-in,” Short said in a text message.

The decision to remove the quotes has not been universally accepted by the senior class; in fact, senior Christian Voelker created an online petition with hopes of changing the minds of the members of the district’s Board of Education.

This petition was eventually blocked by the school’s Wi-Fi. Dr. Koulentes said he did not know the reasoning behind it being blocked but suspects that the petition did not comply with the school’s acceptable use policies. This would result in the inability to access that page while connected to the Wi-Fi network, he explained.  

 When Voelker and fellow senior Jonah Armenta realized that the petition could no longer be accessed on the school’s Wi-Fi, they created a paper version. They collected roughly 260 signatures primarily from the senior class but also received support from some underclassmen. 

Voelker expressed that his anger was rooted in the fact that having a senior quote is something that he had been looking forward to throughout his high school career. To finally reach senior year and have this privilege taken away was frustrating, Voelker shared.

He added an idea for a way that the yearbook could continue publishing senior quotes while avoiding potential harm: “If a student submits a quote that’s highly inappropriate, maybe they get some form of punishment other than getting their quote removed. That way…everybody else still gets to have a senior quote.”

Though initially mad, once Short heard the reasoning behind the decision, her viewpoint changed: “When I got the entire story by talking to my friend who is on yearbook and reading the story about what happened at Highland Park, I see why we would get rid of them due to the stress it puts on the yearbook staff.”

Ultimately, Dr. Koulentes understands that students may not be happy with his decision but hopes that they remain respectful towards the yearbook staff. “It’s really important for people to understand that this isn’t something that just happened at another school by one student one time,” he said.