The Photos that Define Us

Photographer Robert Frank once said, “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” In our lifetime, we’ve witnessed many significant events captured through the lens: some beautiful and moving, others harrowing or egregious. Students and staff chose some of these moments-and corresponding powerful images- that define us. 

Covid 19 – The virus that shut us down

Imagine by the Daily Sabah. Published on May 28 2020.

The Covid outbreak of 2020 led to bizarre and scary scenes around the world. In this photo, workers disinfect a Spice Bazaar in Turkey in hopes of reducing the number of Covid infections. When this photo was taken, Turkey’s daily case count was in the thousands and its death toll was on the rise.

By Brady Nickel

The Slap seen ’round the world

Image by USA Today. Published on March 21, 2022

During the 2022 Oscars, a massive controversy known as “The Slap” occurred after host Chris Rock made a joke about Will Smith’s wife and a sequel to the  “G.I. Jane” movie franchise. Will Smith first appeared to laugh at Rock’s joke, while Jada Pinkett Smith rolled her eyes. Afterward, Smith walked up to the stage, slapped Rock, and walked back to his seat. People in the crowd muttered in confusion as they didn’t know whether this was scripted or real. Jada Pinkett Smith had previously revealed a struggle with alopecia, an autoimmune skin disease that causes hair loss.

By Tyler Swartzendruber

Congress in crisis: The Capitol under siege

Imagine by Jacob Scholl of the Idaho Statesman. Published on Jan. 6, 2021.

On January 6, 2021, a mob of protestors stormed the United States Capitol Building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden. This photo shows Josiah Colt, 34, hanging from a rafter in the Senate Chamber. The Boise, Idaho native was in attendance at the protest that was held outside in support of then-President Donald Trump. When the crowd broke past police barricades, Colt rushed into the Capitol and made his way to the Senate Chambers, where he eventually climbed and rappelled from the rafters. Colt is currently in custody at Ada County Jail.

By Drake Adamson

September 11, 2001: America under attack

Image by Suzanne Plunkett of the Associated Press. Published on September 11, 2001.

Joe Massian (white dress shirt and tie) was talking to his mother when the North Tower Collapsed on 9/11. An employee in the North Tower, Massian originally thought a construction accident had occurred when his office room shook shortly after 8:35 A.M. His plan to continue working was scrapped when the South Tower was hit. He and his colleagues fled the building shortly before its collapse. This photograph was one of the very first from the terrorist attacks that was published to the Internet and it was how his family and friends learned he was alive. It is on display at the 9/11 museum in New York City and serves as one of the most memorable images from that horrible fall day.

By Mr. Duermeyer

The Assault of Nancy Kerrigan

Image by Intersport Television. Published on January 6, 1994.

On January 6, 1994, American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was struck with a telescopic baton shortly after exiting the ice. Labeled the “whack heard around the world,” Kerrigan’s attack became one of the most prominent sports scandals in history, heightened by the involvement of rival American skater Tonya Harding.  

The assailant, Shane Stant, was hired by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, to ruin Kerrigan’s chance for making the Olympic team.  The contrast between America’s demure sweetheart (Kerrigan) and the ruffian smoker (Harding) created the perfect heroine vs. villain tale that captivated audiences across the globe.  The Olympic showdown between the two skaters generated 126.6 million viewers on CBS: at the time placing the event as the third highest-rated sports show ever, just behind Superbowl XVII. Although her full involvement with the attack was questionable, Harding went on to be stripped of her championship titles and was banned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life. 

By Ms. Hlad

Taking the mound at Wrigley

Image from Maria Swartzbaugh. Taken on September 1, 1996.

On September 1, 1996,  my husband, David Swartzbaugh, made his first Major League start against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field in Chicago. David had been a professional baseball player since he was drafted in the 9th round of the 1989 Major League Baseball draft by the Chicago Cubs.  He had steadily worked his way through the minor leagues as a right handed pitcher and made it for a short stint in the major leagues the prior year in 1995. This picture is from his first Major League Baseball game as a starting pitcher. I was in the stands behind home plate with my nine-month-old son, Ryan.  When David took the mound to start his warm up pitches before the game, I cried.  I was so happy that one of his dreams, starting a MLB game, had come true. This game was the apex of his personal career.  He pitched against a future Hall of Fame pitcher, John Smoltz. David pitched 8 innings, had four strikeouts and gave up one earned run.  He got a ‘no decision’ but the Chicago Cubs won the game, 2-1.  This amazing day is still fondly remembered by David and his family.

By Ms. Swartzbaugh

Throwing the Hammer

Imagine by IOPP/AFP via Getty Images. Published on August 1, 1992.

My iconic picture is of my cousin, Jud Logan.  Jud was a 4-time Olympian in the hammer throw as well as the Head Track and Field Coach of Ashland University.  Jud was a legend in the throwing community and one of the most courageous men I knew.  Jud was diagnosed with cancer, but he continued coaching through all of his treatments.  Jud beat the cancer, but then was struck down by Covid the day he was to “Ring” the bell.  Jud is missed by us all, and his story serves to remind us that life is so precious and fragile.  Covid took so many, that I think we have yet to see its true impact.

By Mr. Hellinger

Into the Jaws of Death

Imagine by Chief Photographer, Robert F. Sargent. Published on June 6, 1944. 

Thousands of American troops — many of them recent high school graduates – relied on landing crafts to launch the largest amphibious invasion on the beaches of Normandy, France on D-Day 1944. Operation Overlord was the largest military operation in history and the event that marked US involvement in the Second World War. Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, the operation began the liberation of France and later Western Europe. More than 2500 Americans heroes died on D-Day in order to lay the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.

By Sebastian Baker

NASA’s Challenger explodes

Image by Bruce Weaver of the Associated Press. Published on January 28, 1986.

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded right after takeoff.  I remember being home and watching it on TV.  The nation was stunned.  We were excited to have the first teacher in space: Christa McAuliffe, a non-astronaut.  We had talked about her in school for months.  She had taken a year away from her family to train and do this. She was to become a national hero, someone we admired.  Her family was watching the launch as were classrooms across the world.  This historic event turned into a national tragedy in front of our eyes and set NASA’s program back for several years.

By Ms. Barner

Charlotte Maxwell-Jones: A modern-day hero

Image from Kabul International Airport. Taken on August 29, 2021.

This is Charlotte Maxwell-Jones, founder of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue.  The photo above was taken at the Kabul International Airport on August 29th, 2021, as she and her animals awaited chartered transport out of the country.  I had been following their rescue since the spring of 2021, when it was decided that the U.S. military would fully withdraw from Afghanistan by the fall.  Knowing what this could mean for her and the rescue animals under Taliban rule, she started making immediate plans to get everyone out of the country.  As the full withdrawal date grew closer, she made her way to the airport with over 200 dogs and cats. 

Despite having all the necessary paperwork and financials, leaders within the U.S. government and military refused to allow any chartered flight arranged by Charlotte to land.  She was also denied entry onto any of the numerous empty cargo planes that flew out of Kabul in the final days to escape danger.  What ensued must have been pure heartbreak and unimaginable chaos.  As the final flights were leaving, Lt. General Christopher Donahue ordered the release of all the dogs within the airport and Charlotte was ordered to get on a plane or be left behind.  As the dogs were running around not knowing what was going on, Charlotte picked up a disabled puppy named Bea.  They refused to let her on the flight with Bea, so she made the dangerous trek back to the rescue.  I followed her day-to-day plight in anguish as she went about trying to retrieve any dogs still alive in and around the airport. 

As the months went by, many other harrowing events left me both appalled with humanity, but unbelievably astonished with this woman of unlimited courage.  Most impressive is that she displays this courage in an environment where most people would not have the fortitude to even step foot, let alone perform your life’s mission.  She’s also a prime example that one person can make a difference.  Bea would have met a certain death at the Kabul Airport that day but is now happily living in North America because of Charlotte.  This picture represents to me true courage and strength.  It is also an image to me that defines the word hero.  Her bravery and determination continue to motivate me to one day follow in her footsteps as someone who fights for those who have no voice.

By Mr. Koller

Afghan girl: The face of war

Imagine by American photojournalist Steve McCurry for National Geographic. Published in June, 1985.

This is a picture that has stayed with me because Americans of my generation have been defined in many ways by conflict and war with Afghanistan. I never knew much when I was younger about Afghanistan as a country or its culture; after the Twin Towers fell during the terrorist attack in 2001, you would hear most people talking about “Arabs” being responsible for the attack, whereas Afghanistan is not even geographically connected (or culturally or linguistically similar) to Arabic countries. They do not speak Arabic in Afghanistan. (My Afghan students understood Hindi, a language spoken in India, more than they understood Arabic!) In fact, it’s a fascinating and beautiful country with an ancient and varied culture.

I got to teach the book The Kite Runner to my ninth grade students back in 2017, and reading that book made me realize how much I had to learn. Then, in 2021, I got to teach English as a second language to several students from Afghanistan. The trio of students I taught were from a rural part of the country; there were two girls and one boy. The boy, 15, was semi literate in Pashto, and had been to school for a few years with interruptions, but the two girls, 18 and 20, could not read or write in any language.

Think about it: these children knew nothing but war for their entire lives. The girls would be dependent on family members who could read/write for their entire lives. The girls never had an opportunity to attend school, not for a single day in their lives. It was an incredible honor to get to teach these three their first English words. We need to remember every single day the toll of oppression (and especially oppression of women!) on people around the world.

By Ms. Diffenderfer

The tragic costs of freedom: Arlington National Cemetery

Imagine taken at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 27, 2019.

With Memorial Day quickly approaching, I felt it fitting to share a photo from a Memorial Day past.  This photo, as well as any photo like it, always hits me hard.  Being the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, granddaughter of World War II Veterans, niece of a former Navy officer, cousin of multiple active and veteran Army military personnel, and friend of a multitude of former Marines / Army veterans who served in the war in Afghanistan, I hold the military and those who serve with the utmost respect. 

These individuals, both active and veterans, are / have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for US, you and I,  which is not something many people can say they have willingly made the decision to do.  Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and who have lost their lives doing so; we are all in their debt.  While I have not served myself, I have seen first hand the effect that service can do to someone who has returned from combat; I have also seen first hand the effect that losing someone to combat has done to those who remain.  My own Father is forever reminded of the losses of those he served with in combat, and although those losses occurred many years ago, they still haunt him today.  A friend lost a brother, my husband a friend,  who was only 20 years old, to an IED while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  May we never forget and be forever grateful to these individuals who are / were willing to give so much, including their own lives, for our freedoms. 

By Ms. Grady

A curse is broken: PNC Park, 2013

Imagine taken from All That Base blog. Taken at PNC Park in 2013.

This photo is from the 2013 NL Wild Card Game. It may look familiar because it was played right here, in our hometown, Pittsburgh. The Pirates finally found success during the summer of 2013 after years of terrible seasons. 

October 1st was the day the Pirates secured a 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. The crowd was dressed in black, minus the few Reds fans that dared to enter PNC park that night. Jolly Roger flags were flying and it was loud and exhilarating. Every Pittsburgh fan was on their feet and cheering. You could hear the echoes of “Cueto” ringing throughout the park. In fact, the fans who could not make it in, packed the Roberto Clemente Bridge and watched beyond center field.

The game itself was a blur for many due to so many emotions throughout. However, there is one moment that is crystal clear. The crowd’s “Cueto” chants were so loud that Reds’ pitcher, Johnny Cueto, dropped the ball. On the next pitch, the Pirates catcher, Russel Martin, hit a home run. That big hit fueled the Bucs to the finish line and secured the chance to move on to the NLDS where a showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals awaited. 

By Mr. Schultz

Love Wins: 2015 Obergefell Decision

Imagine by Mladen Antonov for AFP/Getty Images via USA Today. Published on June 26, 2015

On June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in its landmark Obergefell decision. This “photo that defines us” was taken in the hours after that ruling. Throughout my adulthood, I have witnessed increased division throughout not only our country, but the entire world. This 2015 moment for me was a beautiful reminder that we don’t have to always agree with or even understand one another to respect and love one another. Every person in this world deserves to live their best, happiest life; to realize their potential; to pursue their dreams. We shouldn’t stand in each other’s way — rather, we should encourage and support one another. Love is the unifying force, more powerful than our differences, that can help each of us achieve even our loftiest goals. When we acknowledge that every person deserves love, when we approach each person we meet with love and kindness in our hearts, suddenly the differences that divide us don’t feel quite so insurmountable. In every situation, no matter the foe, Love Wins.

By Mrs. Birch

The Flag of Tanzania

This is the flag of Tanzania. It is important because I remember my homeland. People are friendly and proud in Tanzania. I see friends and familiar animals like giraffes, elephants, and dogs.

By Byaunda Leon

Volodymyr Zelensky: A war-time president

Imagine by Getty Images

This is a picture of Volodymyr Zelenskiy. This photo was taken at the beginning of the war in Ukraine against Russia. It’s important because he is so brave. He did and is still doing a lot for Ukraine. People around the world admire him.

By Makar Kolkov

A legend lost: The death of Kobe Bryant

Image by Getty Images

Kobe Bryant helped a lot of people and a lot of Chinese people miss him because he encouraged many people in China to try their best. And he helped many people in China and basketball or in the school he went to visit. Many people watched in the beginning of his basketball playing and they wore 24 jerseys to represent that they miss Kobe. And those people who said that they miss Kobe Bryant in the NBA told people to wear 24 jerseys to represent Kobe Bryant after it was his last match in the NBA . And a lot of people and Chinese TikTok said their little sister or little brother miss Kobe. They said Kobe was a legend in China because he helped many Chinese people and he signed a lot of shoes and basketballs.  One time, a high school student in China wanted to give up running and was about to faint, but Kobe was visiting the school, and ran with him in the school gym. They ran back and forth and Kobe gave him a shoe and signed the shoe. It made his day.

By Michael Chen

Nelson Mandela’s funeral

Image by Getty Images. Published on December, 5, 2013

The picture is of Nelson Mandela’s funeral on 5 December 2013. Nelson Mandela, the first President of South Africa to be elected in a fully representative democratic election, as well as the country’s first black head of state, died at the age of 95 after a prolonged respiratory infection when he was 95 years old. Many people were sad about his death because he was known by many people. He helped end Apartheid.

By Maige Joram

Pele: The Greatest There Ever Was

Imagine by the Associated Press. Published in 1970.

In 1958, the World Cup was held in Brazil. Pelè – the person many believe is the greatest footballer of all time – helped Brazil win its first World Cup. All of Brazil was anxious because they knew they had a star who could lead the country to their first championship. Pelè led Brazil to three World Cup Championship (1958, 1962, 1970) and he started a long tradition of soccer excellence for the country, which continues to win international tournaments. Some of the old players have passed away but Brazil is still inspired to win.

By Daniel Francisco de Souza


This photo was taken in New York. There was a flight called Flight 175 and with terrorists on board. They highjacked the plane full of innocent people. The plane crashed into the Twin Towers and made a huge explosion while there where humans in the buildings. Everyone started running to save themselves from getting killed by the toxic smoke and falling buildings. Where the Twin Towers once stood, there is a place representing the loved ones that got killed during this tragic attack.

By Leononny Dixon  

Iraq 2003: The Toppling of Saddam

Image by Mirrorpix/Getty Images. Published on April 9, 2003.

After spending nine months on the run, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was captured on December 13, 2003. Saddam’s downfall began on March 20, when the United States led an invasion force into Iraq to topple his government, which had controlled the country for more than 20 years.

Saddam Hussein and the Baath party used violence, killing, torture, execution, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, and various forms of repression to control the population. Also all of the Kurdish people that his private police force found were systematically persecuted or executed.

This photo shows the U.S Marines taking down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. The reason this photo is so iconic is because it shows the fall of the Hussein regime. It also showed a point of the Iraq War that let people know that it was almost over.

In 2008, President Bush agreed to a withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraq. The withdrawal was completed under president Barack Obama in December of 2011.

After this, a security vacuum which contributed to the rise of al-Qaeda was established and then the Islamic State, sectarian divisions, militias, a weak legal system, widespread disenfranchisement among Iraqis, and an endemic corruption deeply entrenched in all institutions and sectors. All of the things that happened in this war could be traced back to this one simple photo.

By Josh Boreland

The Men of Manhattan

It’s unbelievable that this iconic image, which is one of the most reproduced photos of all time, really happened. It shows 11 construction workers casually eating, talking, and smoking while fearlessly sitting on a steel beam 800 feet above Manhattan.

The photo was taken from the 69th floor of the RCA Building, which is now the GE building. All of the men in the photo remain unknown to this day. To add to the unknown, the photographer’s identity also remains a mystery. There were three photographers present that day: Charles C. Beets, Thomas Kelley, and William Leftwich.

By Michael Bogdanovich 

Learning from home

More than three years ago, in March 2020, schools had to shut down due to Covid. Everyone everywhere was in quarantine for a long time and stores were out of stock of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. And then we started online schools and did virtual classes through Zoom. There were pros and cons to being online.

The pros were that we would get to sleep in and do school in our PJs. Most of the time the teachers would post an assignment for you to get done by the end of the day, but some teachers made you login and stay on the call while you do it. Another pro is that you could eat in class without them knowing or doing anything. For many online school sounds great but there are some cons.

Some cons include focusing. If you’re around your phone or other distracting things, you might have trouble getting your work done. Also you don’t see your friends as often. In school I see my friends all the time, but during online classes I barely saw them. Occasionally I would call or message my friends but it would be better to see my friends everyday.

Online school was fun but overall I’m glad we are back in person, or I’d be failing.

By Baylee Wilcox

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