Class of ’96

October 15, 2007 at 8:37 pm · Filed under Identity / Systems, Type / Fonts, Uniforms / Apparel


Nathan Hale Class of ’96 Raiders proposal for commemorative T-shirt design; pencil and pen on notebook paper; 8.5 x 11in. / 1996

In his song Life, Jeffrey Lewis, one of my favorite musical artists, relates each major defining factor of life (friends, love, global cultural differences, God, etc.) with a pithy verse each. The whole song is probably about two-and-a-half minutes long, and, even though it is sung of his own experience, it captures the entirety of modern life more eloquently than anything else I’ve ever heard or read at any word count. In his verse about school, he shares:

School is the place where I did my growing
They fill your brain to overflowing
They tell you this is all stuff you need to be knowing
School is the place where I did my growing
Just when I got to like it, it was time to be going

I could certainly see my entire scholastic experience in this light, but my high school days in particular are what this conjures most. Coming from middle school, which I only got to like when it was time never to have to come back, high school barely outperformed my then deflated expectations at the beginning. I was processed by generic classes and distracted teachers. The halls sucked me from one hour of it to the next until it was over for the day. The mile and a half commute passed under me each day until the week was over.

But as those weeks turned into months and and quarters, glimmers of hope began to energize my steps, and vice-versa. I was exposed to the potential of my experience, and I began to gain confidence and venture into it…

Nathan Hale wasn’t really known for anything. Indeed, it was barely known at all. Though there are only about a half-dozen public high schools in Seattle, even most Seattleites are only vaguely familiar with it. Of those, only a handful can actually locate it (a small, flat order at the bottom of four steep hills, across from an alternative school for the gifted, Larsonically-named “Summit”). But that wasn’t to say that its programs were not good. In fact, some of their initiatives were flat-out ground-breaking for a public high school.

The venture began to pay off. I went from doughboy to some semblance of an athlete. I got myself into many of those innovative programs and surrounded myself with a diverse cadre of thinkers. I had the chance to explore different ways to express myself, my interests and political/cultural issues in an English/History/Art section that was orchestrated more like a think-tank than a class. I learned about photography in a darkroom. I learned about broadcast radio from our school station, which happens to be more powerful and popular than most commercial stations in the region. I helped design and build a full-scale solar car that competed with colleges from all over the Northwest in an applied physics class. I learned what graphic design was in a studio that would put most professional firms to shame. I learned what the Internet was and how to code HTML pages to put on it while it was still a vacant playground.

It turned out that my little, anonymous high school was a hidden gem, and exactly where I wanted—if not needed—to be. I got to like it. So, as it was time to get going, I decided to express my school spirit by entering a(n unfinished) sketch into a contest for graduating class memorabilia: a typographic play that juxtaposed the geometric, numerical precision of the cutting-edge with the thoughtful, humanistic touch in the written word.

I didn’t win the contest, but, you know… that’s life.

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