Our Laguna: Students honored at annual scholarship ceremony

The annual Laguna Beach High School Honors Convocation over the weekend rewarded the accomplishments of graduating seniors with scholarships and awards. The reception before the convocation rewarded the donors and presenters with gratitude from former recipients and awe from the Scholarship Foundation.

"This evening the foundation will award 121 students $283,000," foundation President Kerry Rubel said at the reception. "That's pretty amazing for a small town like this."

She said it brought to mind a Chinese proverb: "If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody."

Alumni John Hornbeak and Annika Dries, both past scholarship recipients, spoke at the reception of what that help had meant to them.

Hornbeak graduated in 1999 and attended Stanford University.

"I was fortunate enough to receive some scholarships from your foundation — the Keith Childers Memorial, Rotary Senior Top Scholar and the Friends of the Library — and I am back here over 10 years later to say thank you," said Hornbeak. "Thank you for you generosity. With your continued support there will be many more students like myself that you help attain their dream, however long and windy a path they take to get there.

"But whatever paths students take, whatever places they live, and whatever changes they make throughout their lives, the one thing that doesn't change is the kindness, generosity and compassion of people like you here in Laguna."

Exactly three years earlier, to the day, Dries was on a plane to Russia as a member of the U.S. Women's Water Polo Team to compete in the World League Super Final international tournament.

"This is it, my chance to prove myself," she thought. "I had the raw tools of an Olympic water polo player and now I had the chance to start using them. I was also about to graduate from high school with similar raw tools: a passion for helping others and the fundamental skills of science."

Dries was sitting in the lobby of a Russian hotel, when her mother emailed the news that her daughter had received scholarships from the Ebell Club, Dr. Michele Codini, the Masson Foundation, Kea Simon Medical and the Camron Blackburn Memorial.

"With these awards, not only did I have the opportunity to attend Stanford University as a scholar-athlete, but also to walk on campus with the support of this community for my academic success," Dries said.

During her time at Stanford, Dries has traveled the world with the water polo team, which has been honing its skills.

This year, the team will compete in the Olympics.

To Dries, being an Olympian means striving for perfection and getting back up after you fail.

"I would like to thank the Laguna Beach community, as it has always instilled those standards of excellence and character in me," Dries said.

Scholarships were first presented to Laguna Beach High School graduates by the Ebell Club in 1947. Stewarded in the early years by high school counselor Jan Fritsen, the scholarship program began to grow and in 1988 became a chapter of Dollars for Scholars, a program of the Citizens' Scholarship Foundation of America.

"In 1989, we awarded $89,400," said longtime foundation member Mary Fegraus. Those were Bill and Kathleen Blackburn's memorial scholarship in their daughter's name, which awards $1,000 for four years, and the Festival of Arts multiyear scholarships.

"Now, many are for four or five years," Fegraus said.

High school counselor Walt Lawson succeeded Fritsen and continued to serve on the board after retiring from teaching in 2001. High School Community Service Coordinator Jeannie Harrell, who is retiring this year, took over in 2002.

Harrell and retiring assistant high school principal Gretchen Ernsdorf were honored at the reception.

Ernsdorf joined the staff in 1989, with six years' experience as a special education teacher. In 1999, she moved out of the classroom to become a counselor. She served on the Scholarship Faculty Committee from 1995 to 2008.

Harrell is the mother of two boys and the wife of a Laguna Beach High School alumnus.

"Jeannie is the hardest working member of the Scholarship Foundation," said Rubel. "She interfaces with the students, school administration, donors, community and trustees. She does it all with a smile on her face and a great sense of humor."

The foundation also lost two board members.

Lauren Packard and Mitchellene Channels retired.

Among the scholarships under Packard's stewardship during her 14 years as a trustee: Ace Award, Exchange Club Youth of the Year; First Team Real Estate, Laguna Beach Live!, William R. Stapleton Memorial and the Melvin J. Tonkon, MD, Medical.

Channels supervised the scholarships from AYSO Region 86, Ebell Club, and in the names of Red Guyer and Lila Zali.

"As we bid farewell to two trustees, the foundation is welcoming a new trustee: Jackie Parker," said Rubel.

Parker joins Rubel, Marsha Arnoff, Annie Sadler, Bob and Marge Earl, school board members Ketta Brown and Betsy Jenkins, Blynn Bunney, Fletcher Dice, Kimberly Knill, Lee Kucera, Lawson, Michele Leighton, Susan Elliott-Richardson, Barbara MacGillivray, Fariba Mortazavi, Lynn Fair, Gwen Myers, Fegraus, Debbie Naude, Lynn Gregory, Robin Hall, Art Smart, Carolyn Hartley, Debra Steel, Martha Jager, Victoria Strombon, Eleanor Tiner and Diane Kloke.

The foundation provides a link between donors and the high school; helps new sponsors establish awards; encourages endowments that perpetuate existing awards, particularly memorial scholarships; manages and invests the donated funds and trust funds; keeps students updated on available scholarships, and hosts the Honors Convocation and the reception that precedes it.

"This reception is about you," Rubel told the donors and presenters. "Without you, there would be no awards. The scholarships we give tonight, through your generosity, recognize the potential in these students and give them opportunities they might not otherwise have.

"This foundation, which you have in effect created by your gifts, speaks to what is best in community, because it teaches the value of education, the importance of helping others, the commitment to community and our belief in potential."

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4618 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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