Coronavirus continues to disrupt events across the world (including, most recently, Coachella) and daily life still feels way off returning to normal. Obviously, schools and universities aren’t an exception to this, and as a result thousands of students are missing out on the usual traditions and events that mark the end of the year.
A new app, though, gives high school students from every school across the US a chance to take part in one of those traditions – or at least an approximation of it – from their own homes.
Started as a “sibling quarantine project” in LA, by 22-year-old Suraya Shivji and 18-year-old high school senior Jameel Shivji, the app (HAGS, as in Have a Great Summer) lets students get yearbook signatures from their friends and classmates via Snapchat.
“Yearbooks are an important tradition that adds excitement and unity to the end of the school year,” Suraya tells Dazed, and explains that she and her brother – along with 19-year-old, Melbourne-based developer James Dale – have tried to keep the app as close to the real thing as possible.
“It was important to us to create a yearbook that felt more like a nostalgic book than an app,” she adds, citing influences from Nickelodeon’s Zoey 101 to the 2009 game Doodle Jump and the end credits of High School Musical: “We wanted HAGS to feel nostalgic, playful, rusty, and caring.”
High school students themselves have also played a big part in the ideas and development behind the app. Obviously, Jameel’s ideas were there from the start, but he and Phoebe Bayer, his best friend from school, also assembled over 200 high school students to give their input, as well as high schoolers on TikTok.
“Working with high schoolers has been essential to making HAGS what it is,” says Suraya, adding that lockdown was both the reason for the app and the ideal time to come up with this kind of project. “The time at home worked out for us because we had the time to work on it everyday and the passion to build it.”
While the whole point of the project is that it provides a way to connect digitally amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s also been reworked so that students can but a physical copy of their yearbook.
100% of proceeds will go to Know Your Rights Camp, which provides resources to Black and Brown communities, including legal assistance for those currently protesting against, or a victim of, police brutality.
Recently, other graduating students from the class of 2020 have also commemorated their friendships and achievements via virtual yearbooks on Instagram.