Yearbook makes history — winning top two national journalism awards, placing second in Best of Show in a single school year

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Some of the Helios staffers from last year note the hard work and effort in producing creative Index pages like this one for the 2018-2019 yearbook, which swept both national journalism awards this school year. Image posted with permission from Lindsay Safe.

Emmaline De Leon

When Sabrina Lee and Tara Desai became co-editors-in-chief of Helios last school year as seniors, they strived to produce a yearbook they’d be proud of for the rest of their lives — a goal common to all past student publications leaders.

Little did they know that their “It’s All Here”-themed product would also set records for the yearbook program as it earned recognition during the final round of the 2019-2020 national journalism awards season.

Having already notched a Gold Crown award in March from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association — a first since 2004 — the 304-page book captured a Pacemaker award and placed second in the Best of Show category from the National Scholastic Press Association [NSPA] — all historic feats for one year.

The NSPA’s highest honor is yearbook adviser Lindsay Safe’s first Pacemaker award. Previously, Helios had only won the award for its 2002-2003 book when English teacher Suzanne Boxdorfer was the adviser; under Safe, the yearbook program qualified as a finalist for the 2007-2008 book.

“It’s always a great feeling to be honored for something you put your heart and soul into,” Lee said. “It was also an amazing feeling knowing that this book was the first Pacemaker and Gold Crown [Safe] had won.”

For Best of Show, last year’s annual missed winning a first-place trophy, finishing behind Corning-Painted Post High School’s Tesserae in the 280-332 pages division.

“Second place in Best of Show was [a] huge honor,” Safe said. “To come in behind Tesserae is awesome.”

Safe and her yearbook students learned of these achievements from watching a virtual awards presentation through Vimeo on April 17. The annual spring NSPA convention and awards program were scheduled to have been held in Nashville last month but got canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally, publication teams were only allowed to enter the on-site Best of Show contest if they had at least one student attend the convention. However, the organizers opened up the competition to all journalism publication programs — yearbook, newspaper/online, magazine and broadcast — since no one was able to attend the event.

Safe and her friends across the country who are also yearbook advisers watched the pre-recorded presentation on Vimeo, as if it were live.

Desai, Lee and last year’s design editor, Layla Lee, also received the link to the video through a text message from Safe.

“Before I could watch [the whole presentation], the results were spoiled to me by [Desai] when she texted that we won second place in our group chat,” Layla Lee said.

Receiving such national honors also gave her a sense of validation for the work she completed as design editor.

“There are a lot of challenges when creating a yearbook, from working super late hours to meticulously checking each picture, sentence and design’s consistency for every page,” Layla Lee said. “When Sabrina and I finished doing the index after hours and hours, we felt so good [about] creating an index that was different from previous years.”

Though California’s social distancing measures prevent staff members from gathering in person to celebrate, they plan on doing something eventually.

“I’m not sure what we’ll do because we can’t hold our usual banquet, but we’ll think of something as a group,” Safe said.

As for this year’s book, themed “Keep Talking, We’re Listening,” the Helios staff anticipates a positive response.

“I expect it to be very memorable,” sophomore staffer Toni Lee said. “We [covered] a lot of things people will remember that happened this year.”

The word, “legacy,” also came to mind for many of the recent Helios graduates who produced the award-winning 2018-2019 yearbook.

“I hope that the future yearbook staff continues to love the process of making a yearbook, just as much as we did last year,” Sabrina Lee said. “A little part of me hopes that they will look at ‘It’s All Here’ for inspiration, just like how we would be inspired [by previous yearbooks] like ‘Just Sayin’ and ‘Let’s Get It.’”

Layle Lee also has high hopes for students to help Helios grow even further.

“I personally want Sunny Hills to become well-known as a school with awesome yearbooks,” she said. “Because our yearbook and journalism students are very talented and hardworking, I believe that they will improve upon our work as well.”

Despite the awards, the staff wants to remain focused on doing work that makes the student body proud.

“Knowing that the students liked our book and hearing my peers tell me it was their favorite book yet meant the world to me because I know it’s something they’ll keep and show their kids,” Desai said. “Our book will be eternal in that sense, and I hope that the staff makes a book for themselves and the students, not just for the awards.”

Safe agrees.

“I want the future yearbook staff to keep striving for excellence and to continue having fun while doing it,” she said. “It’s a matter of [whether they] will push themselves to tell the stories, take the photos and create the designs that showcase what it’s like to be a Lancer.”