As chronicles of student life, yearbooks get all the respect. Students long since graduated can go to trunks and attics and recover bound volumes, one for each year, that remind them in one or two page increments what Homecoming was like, who was in the Key Club, and what the band uniforms looked like when they were in high school. For a reminder of classmates’ hairstyles lined up in rows, yearbooks can’t be beat, and for durability they’re about the best record of years gone by.
For a month to month window in what life is like on a school’s campus, however, for a glimpse into students’ priorities and attitudes, the most reliable record is quite simply the school newspaper.
The trick, of course, is the transitory nature of a newspaper. Its strength is its immediacy; its Achilles heel is that same quality. Few save newspapers, particularly high school students, and before the digital age when websites archived student journalists, the articles and opinion pieces, letters to the editor and rebuttals, the grainy black and white photos and editorial cartoons were often lost to that great devourer, time.
What a treat then that here at San Dieguito some vintage issues of The Mustang still survive.
A quick visit to San Dieguito’s Alumni website leads to a link to a student newspaper archive. Three years of The Mustang live here, 1974-1975, 1994-1995, and 1995-1996. They are a delight.
What’s striking about the newspapers, particularly those from the 1970s, is how different the tone seems than the more genteel writers of 2016. These are journalists with opinions, students writing letters to the editor with things to say. In 1974-1975, The Mustang rings with the clear voice of dissent.
A sampling of articles from the Nixon era student newspaper reveals a student body concerned with justice. One student editorialist wrote about “Student Rights” in an educational system where not every student gets along with every teacher. On the same page, another student described “How to Fire the ASB” while a third fielded a letter to the editor demanding to know why an American Government class was being charged for covertly inserting flyers about environmental concerns into every issue of The Mustang.
Noticeable too is pride in San Dieguito and concerns that the school isn’t living up to its potential. In a June 1975 column titled “The Critic Speaks,” a student wrote: “We have a lot already here at this wonderful school of ours, but perhaps it needs something more. Four years now I have waited for some type of student action other than the usual, other than tossing water balloons at trash collectors and other school employees. I have waited for something better. Something that says out loud, ‘We don’t give a damn.’ As of yet, nothing.”
The newspapers also provide a glimpse at the reality that until Torrey Pines High School opened its doors, a delay in construction had young Falcons sharing space with Mustangs on San Dieguito’s campus. Praising the advantages of San Dieguito, the student writer noted that “Torrey Pines staff expects to solve many problems when they move onto their own campus.”
In an example of the way news can feel dated soon, The Mustang celebrated the fact that the “60￠San Dieguito Special is here to stay” and described an innovative and “fool proof” way to take attendance that included color coded cards index cards and a “machine which immediately prints them on a print out sheet.” Ah, technology in 1975. It was “definitely more accurate than other systems used by high schools in the county.”
From a photo of San Dieguito’s “Math geniuses” to a critique of dividing gym time between girls and boys PE (which included the line: “San Dieguito’s beautiful new gymnasium has gone to the birds, or more specifically, it has gone to the chicks.”), The Mustang captured student voices and given them inches of column space to speak out across the decades.
Some of those voices raise concern for issues such as the “Senior Squeeze” that asked 12th grade students to pay the crazy prices of $24 for senior pictures and $8 for a yearbook. Others rise satirically, and in the July issue you can find parody pages of newspapers called The Red Press and Socialist Review and The Patriot, “brought to you by The San Dieguito Red Neck Society.” If the current satire of The Mustang’s “Sentinel” section sometimes confuses folks, I can only imagine how the “Red Press Student Manifesto” would be received with its call to “Overthrow the Administration, Exile the leaders of the ASB Bourgeoisie, and Abolish all school newspapers.”
In addition to these opinion pieces are lots of great articles describing athletic events, dances, and student activities. We learn from The 1974-1975 Mustang that donkey basketball was a huge success and that final exams caused “tension to mount” among students on campus.
There is no replacement for a great yearbook, the mug shots from years gone by worth the price of admission, always, but as a compliment to the historical record of San Dieguito, I’d offer past issues of The Mustang. Where else will you find a photo of math geniuses?