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Been There, Took the Class, Got the T-shirt

Tiana Marie-Peavey has wanted an AP Lit T-shirt since she first saw one her freshman year. Thing was, you had to be a student in Jeff Larsen’s class.

This year, Tiana got her T-shirt, a rite of passage of sorts since 2006 for students of Larsen. Past T-shirts are displayed like championship pennants in Larsen’s classroom.

“I went to the Secretary of State’s office and got a lot of looks,” Tiana said. “That was fun.”

Teacher Jeff Larsen has been producing T-shirts for his class since 2006

Larsen has taught AP literature and composition at Lowell High School for 18 years, in addition to media studies and literature and film. He started the T-shirt wrap-up to the year, he said “to build esprit de corps in my students.”

Each year’s design is based on something said in class or read in a novel, he said. Most often it’s an inside joke. The images typically align with something in popular culture, such as Star Wars, the ubiquitous “Keep Calm” meme and the iconic 2008 Barack Obama presidential poster by artist Shepard Fairey.

This year’s image is a riff on “King Lear,” Larsen explained. Lear’s long-time adviser, Gloucester, is punished for treason, and the punishment involves having his eyes plucked out. The plucker yells, “Out, vile jelly!” in that scene, “and the kids have a visceral reaction to it,” Larsen said.

“We’ve taken the concept of ‘vile jelly’ and rewritten the old Smucker’s jelly motto — ‘With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good’ — to the more disturbing one” on the T-shirt: “it has to be vile.”

“(Students) might not remember everything about ‘King Lear’ in 20 years,” he added, “but they’ll always remember that vile shirt.”

And this year, his students aren’t the only ones who get to sport the shirts with the jar of eyeball berries on the front, which was designed by student Sydney Conard. Larsen opened the sale up to others in the high school, and he printed extras because he expects to get requests to buy them from other teachers at the AP exam reading in Kansas City in June.

Other Lowell High School AP teachers have picked up on the T-shirt theme, including Spanish, chemistry and biology.

The back of the “King Lear” T-shirt

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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