Regardless of where they landed, these pros can trace to their roots in yearbook

It’s been on flair, merch and on classroom walls through the years. It resides in email signatures and certainly isn’t an uncommon sentiment, but the phrase means different things to different people.

To some, it’s merely a declaration of pride and buy-in from staffers. As the YBK experience becomes richer, more intense or more meaningful, so does the phrase.

While more former yearbookers work in careers outside media than those who later photograph, design, write or edit for a living, it’s not unusual for there to be a connection.


AS AN INTERN with the Boston Red Sox, Maddie Malhotra got used to spending long hours at Fenway Park on game days. Her college and professional experience built on years of shooting sports in middle school and high school yearbook. PHOTO BY CAMERON POLLACK/BOSTON RED SOX


A VARIED PORTFOLIO includes images from an array of Red Sox games as well as other team events and environmental portraits, but also additional assignments and projects demonstrating prowess in many kinds of shooting situations and mastery of a range of techniques. See more of her work online at maddiemalhotra.com. PHOTOS BY MADDIE MALHOTRA


“I sort of fell into it, and I have never looked back.”

In seventh grade, Maddie Malhotra took a digital media class at Sierra Middle School in Parker, Colorado. She found it interesting — and she convinced her parents that she “needed” a DSLR camera. She knew there was a yearbook at her school, but she was not aware of what being on staff actually involved.

Her neighbor (conveniently, an adviser at another school) noticed her interest in photography and suggested that she consider yearbook as an eighth-grader. Malhotra took that advice and signed up, even though she had “no idea about the program’s national reputation or what being on staff could mean.”

The stars seemed to align.

Malhotra wanted to learn as much about photography as possible. She was looking for opportunities to shoot, get feedback and challenge herself as much as possible. She often accepted assignments photographing athletics.

“I didn’t really know anything about sports, and I am definitely not athletic, but I found myself loving it,” she said. “Other staff photographers tended to shy away from those assignments, but I thrived on getting past the creative and technical challenges.”

By year’s end, it was a given that she wanted to continue yearbook in high school. By continuing to shoot sports and improve her craft, she captured top honors in NSPA’s Picture of the Year competitions for both Sports Action and Sports Reaction, as a junior.

Her adviser took note of her other skills as well. She liked design, was a writer and was great at conceptualizing. By senior year, she was editor-in-chief of Golden Images at Chaparral High School. The volume she edited won a Gold Crown from CSPA and was an NSPA Pacemaker Finalist, making both lists the first time it was recognized nationally.

“Being EIC was a full-time job” she recalled, “but I loved it, and I knew I wanted to major in journalism.”

So, she headed to Boston University where she designed her studies around a focus on photography while continuing to take design, reporting and editing classes.

Her work at The Daily Free Press involved more work in sports. “I shot a lot of hockey,” she said, “but I also got to shoot concerts and campus events.”

After graduating in 2018 and still seeking opportunities to learn, Malhotra stayed in Boston, assisting the creative director for BU marketing and communication.

On top of that, she interned for an array of publications and media outlets, including a Little League organization, The Players’ Tribune, the NFL as a Patriots correspondent and the Boston Red Sox. After less than a year with the Red Sox organization, she was named a full-time staff photographer.

Now her work involves all of the team’s photo needs. “People have no idea how much effort it takes to support a team,” Malhotra said.

In addition to herself and the club’s photo manager, the marketing department’s creative services team includes a pair of photo interns, several designers and a number of social media specialists.

“Whether it’s a game day or not, we are working and posting,” she explained. “Game days are definitely longest. It’s normal to arrive four to six hours ahead of the game to set up the file structure, gear up and shoot pre-game appearances and other assignments.”

After that, it’s off to the clubhouse and batting practice for some behind-the-scenes work.

Interns often cover the pre-game and warm-ups, then Malhotra moves behind home plate for the first couple of innings before moving into the photo pits near the dugouts.

“Though we edit during the game, there’s a mad rush to edit afterward,” she said. “It might take another hour or so to pack up after.”

Looking to the future, Malhotra said while Boston feels like home now, she knows she may need to be open to following opportunities that will allow her to advance and keep shooting full-time for a major sports franchise. But she trusts her passions will continue to open doors as they have in the past.

After attending Rocky Mountain Journalism camp repeatedly as a student, she returned twice more as a camp assistant and photographer. When Herff Jones was looking for an adviser/editor team to make instructional Yearbook Academy videos, Malhotra and her middle school adviser Jed Palmer accepted the assignment and starred in the six-part series on photography.

Because Malhotra traces the roots for her work back to her yearbook experiences, it’s easy for her to see connections.

“There was nothing like opening the first box of the book I edited,” she said. “I couldn’t stop smiling all day.”

And, though she now sees her work being shared constantly, it still has an impact.

“Now it’s less about me and more about the team, but it still helps connect people,” she explained. “That’s what it’s all about.”


THIS WAR ROOM was home to rebranding efforts to make Mattel’s Barbie relevant for years to come by introducing new body types for the iconic doll to the market. Representing the creative process in the room made the lengthy assignment one of Phan’s most rewarding assignments at BBDO.


IN HIS NEW ELEMENT, after interning in San Francisco as a college junior, Phan decided to seek work there after graduation. See some of Phan’s work online at tuthanhphan.com. PHOTOS COURTESY OF TU PHAN


“The things I liked best about yearbook are still part of my daily life. I loved that in high school and I feel like I am lucky to have that as adult.”

Years into his college career, Tu Phan realized that he’d originally chosen the wrong major.

The former Smoky Hill editor-in-chief from Aurora, Colorado, was three years into a biochemical engineering degree when he found himself admitting he was more excited about the posters and presentations he created for his classes than he was about the work he was assigned to present.

Shifting gears, but remaining true to himself, he went on to graduate with a bachelor’s in advertising and linguistics, and minors in technology, arts and media with a leadership studies certificate. None of this was surprising to Summit adviser Carrie Faust, who recognized his talent and hunger to learn about design when he was a sophomore in her program at Smoky in 2007.

“I started in JV yearbook as a sophomore,” Phan explained, “but was invited onto Varsity second semester.” He began his junior year as student life editor and became junior editor-in-chief second semester before editing the award-winning volume his senior year.

“We all join yearbook for a reason,” he said, hitting on a piece of advice for students. Recording what students loved about yearbook could help determine which paths make most sense for them.

“Now it’s so obvious to me that I just came full-circle,” he revealed. “The theme of the book I edited in high school was inspired by a Nikon ad. Now, I am the one helping imagine high-impact ads and campaigns.”

An internship at San Francisco’s BBDO — the ad agency that inspired the show Mad Men — cemented his future before his senior year. And after graduation, he was back in San Francisco as an art director. “It’s the perfect fit for yearbookers who love the rigor of making ideas become reality,” he said of his work.

Of the many clients with whom he worked at BBDO (HP, Wells Fargo, Mars chocolate and many others), his work with Mattel was most rewarding. In addition to Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price and American Girl campaigns, Phan was on the team that rebranded Barbie for a 2016 release of three new body types to refresh the doll’s relevance after 57 years.

“Much of the time, I was the sole creative in the room.”

In fewer than four years there, he was named senior art director and he and the BBDO team received lots of recognition.

He originally declined when was approached by LinkedIn about joining a new in-house team there. After a year of conversation, they captured his attention by acknowledging that they knew he liked envisioning projects and helping build them out.

The recruiting, training and cultural aspects of LinkedIn’s plan for an internal agency, reminded him of yearbook and he accepted the Creative Studio challenge. Today, as a senior art director on a team that’s grown from 10 to 40, he concepts and art-directs fully integrated campaigns to evolve the look and feel of LinkedIn’s brand.

After coaching younger members of the yearbook staff and others on his creative teams through the years, Phan found another way to strengthen the future of the industry. Phan began teaching courses like Content Creation, Everything is Media, Interactive Concepting, Pop Culture Engineering, Thinking Strategically and Visual Impact & Art Direction at the San Francisco campus of Miami Ad School. He works alongside other industry leaders to mentor students in portfolio, undergrad- and graduate-level degree programs at the school, which is described by the founders as the school they wish they had gone to.

“It’s like a finishing school for creatives,” Phan said. “My work there is rigorous, fun and rewarding.”

Much like yearbook.


WORKING REMOTELY is common for Dr. Patricia Fletcher, PhD. When deployed to a disaster zone by FEMA, she finds herself working in a range of locations as she strives to serve elderly victims of natural disasters.


Despite varied degrees and jobs, one label remains.

A life-long learner who holds numerous degrees, Dr. Patricia Fletcher attributes who she is today to her entrepreneurial interest and her understanding of well-told stories.

A shy ninth grader, Fletcher first impressed a teacher with her writing skills. When Cillon McKinley first invited Fletcher to join the yearbook staff at Greater New York Academy, he had no idea she also liked design. Assistant editor her junior year and co-editor as a senior, Fletcher found yearbook gave her purpose.

“People knew it was my thing,” she said. “I truly was the yearbook girl.”

The same was true in college. She inquired about yearbook as soon as she arrived at Oakwood University as a communications major. “It was definitely my main activity there too.”

Her yearbook experience built her confidence. She became organized, independent, creative and more comfortable as a leader.

Fast-forward through years in print production, as an NYC designer, with a graduate certificate in design thinking and a master’s in public relations.

“I kept uncovering more aspects I liked and more talents I had,” she said.

Telling compelling stories and presenting information in all forms is at the core of everything she’s done professionally — even her second master’s in gerontology and her doctorate in public policy and social change.

And then, it happened again. Another opportunity found Fletcher. As a researcher, a gerontologist and a trained communications professional, her work at FEMA provides her a way to serve the elderly when they need help most of all. While she is currently back home in Charlotte, North Carolina, completing a project centered around Floridian victims of Hurricane Michael, she could be deployed to the next disaster at any time. When that happens, she’ll relocate for as long as a year to assist victims as they attempt to recover.

“This type of work is rewarding in every way. It redefines who I need to be — and it allows me to use my yearbooking skills to help others,” she explained.

“This is my soul’s mission.”