The annual Honors Convocation is all about...

The annual Honors Convocation is all about the students. The reception that precedes it is all about the donors and presenters of scholarships and awards.

"There would be no awards ceremony without you," said Laguna Beach Scholarship Foundation President Marsha Aronoff at the reception on June 11 at the high school.

"The scholarships we give tonight through your generosity recognize the potential in these students and give them opportunities they might not otherwise have."

A total of $275,000 was distributed to 118 students this year, with another $100,000 available through five of the scholarship programs that are renewable for three more years if conditions are met.

(See list of recipients on Page A8).

Among the presenters at the reception: Laguna Beach Woman's Club representatives Stefany Skenderian and Andrea Miller, to honor a girl raised by a single parent and interested in a field of study related to women's causes; retired public health nurse Penny Stastney, to present two $4,800 scholarships to students who want to purse a career in medicine; Festival of Arts President Wayne Baglin and board member Pat Kollenda, who also sang with the No Square Theatre quartet at the convocation; and Margaret Warder and Debbi Neev, there to present the award from Soropotimist International of Laguna Beach.

2002 graduate Aurora Steinle and 2008 graduate Claire Rubel attended the reception to tell the donors what their scholarships had meant to them.

Steinle, who recently graduated from law school, was the recipient of several scholarships.

"The scholarship I received from the Festival of Arts recognized my achievements as an artist in high school, but required that I continue to take art classes each semester in college to receive the full scholarship," Steinle said.

While she never doubted her passion for art, she is doubtful that she would have taken the art classes if not for the scholarship, when faced with a heavy class load.

"My point is that these scholarships may not be an easy prescription for what to do next or be the answer to all of the future challenges students face, but I think they should be recognized for what they are: an acknowledgement of accomplishments past and an incredible source of support as Laguna Beach High School graduates go onto define their own futures," Steinle said.

"They clearly had a lasting effect on my life and I am sure it will be much the same for tonight's deserving recipients."

Rubel just completed her sophomore year at Emory University in Atlanta.

"I didn't understand how generous and helpful these scholarships were until I arrived at college and found how crucial this experience would be in my life," Rubel said.

She believes her scholarships validated her hard work in high school and allowed her to pursue her dreams.

"I am extremely lucky to have grown up in such an inspiring and supportive community," Rubel said. "Thank you for giving students incredible opportunities and allowing them to reach their highest potential."

The Laguna Beach Highs School Scholarship Foundation is a chapter of the national Dollars for Scholars and much of what has been accomplished is due to Jan Fritzen, who was honored at the reception.

"She was the foundation before it existed formally," said Walt Lawson, foundation trustee.

Fritzen was hired by the school district in 1968 and given the responsibility to organize what was then called the Awards Assembly.

The Ebell Club was the first organization to donate a scholarship.

"I love the fact that so many people are involved now," Fritzen said.

She found it especially touching that so many scholarships are funded in the memory of loved ones.

Among the memorials are the names of Les Chatham, Barbara Laird, Eric Abernathy, architect Chris Abel, and Don Kucera, whose wife Lee is a foundation trustee.

Other memorials are named for student Mark Tiner, whose father, Peter, teaches art at the high school and whose mother, Eleanor, is on the foundation board; Joey Masella, whose strength of character belied his fragile young body and inspired the community; and Jennifer Lynn Bammer, whose brother Larry is the president of the Police Assn.

The Camron Blackburn Memorial Scholarship was presented this year by Evie and Lauren Blackburn, the granddaughters of Bill and former Mayor Kathleen Blackburn. The girls are the daughter of the Blackburns' late son, David, who used to make the presentation.

The scholarships have grown in meaning and generosity since Fritzen renamed the Awards Assembly the Honors Convocation. The one-woman organizer has blossomed into the foundation that administers funds that include annual donations and a bank account of $2 million that ensures the continuation of the scholarship program.

Among the hard working trustees at the reception: Bob and Marge Earl, School Board president Ketta Brown, who prepared an absolutely scrumptious buffet and Martha Jager, who baked the Death-by-Chocolate flourless cakes.

And: trustees Michelle Channels, Susan Elliott-Richardson, Lynn Fair, Mary Fegraus, Lynn Gregory, Robin Hall, Betsy Jenkins, Diane Kloke, Kimberly Knill, Michele Leighton, Gail McClain, Fariba Mortazavi, Lauren Packard, Kerry Rubel, Annie Sadler, Art Smart, Debra Steel, Fletcher Dice and Kevin Yates.

Angela Irish, who retired from the board this year after 18 years, was presented with a bouquet. She will continue to work with the performing arts department.

Two newcomers to the board were introduced at the reception: Gwen Myers, longtime TOW teacher's aide and Debbie Naude, PTA volunteer and incoming chair of the popular Coffee Break series.

The Faculty Scholarship Committee includes Mark Alvarez, Amy Baxter, Mike Churchill, Tristen Gier, Sandra Johnson, Jenn Merritt, Kristen Parke, Valorie Quigley, Janet Steele and Jeannie Harrell, the district's scholarship coordinator.

Surely Fritzen could have had no idea of how the seeds she planted in 1968 would blossom.

"This foundation, which you have in effect created with your gifts, is emblematic of the best of this community because it models the value of education, the importance of helping others, the commitment to community and our belief in potential." Aronoff told the donors and presenters.

Those gifts add up.

The festival was the top donor to 2010 grads, with $22,600 in awards. Other top awards this year included the $20,600 Linda and Joseph Leighton Memorial, the $16,400 Joe Thurston Fund and the $14,400 Don Nichols Scholarships. The Masson Foundation Water Polo Scholarship awarded $10,000. The James Patrick Vincent and Marian Pickens Fagan Fund donated $9,600 and $7,500 came from the Soroptimists.

This year, the foundation welcomed new scholarships from the Class of 2007, the Laguna Beach Business Club, Laguna Beach Live!, Crimson Law Group, the Earl Family, the PTA Academic Boosters and the Bill O'Brien, class of '57 memorial.

Following the reception, donors and presenters were ushered to their reserved seats in Artists Theatre where the presentations were made.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com

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