Four days before tonight’s scholarship awards convocation at Laguna Beach High School, Lynn Gregory was in crunch-time, “buried” under phone calls, getting out last-minute invitations and sending “no” letters to rejected applicants.
Of 222 graduating seniors, 114 are receiving scholarships from a total of 300 awards from the Laguna Beach High School Scholarship Foundation. Names are confidential until the convocation ceremony at 7 p.m. tonight, Friday, June 5, in the Artists’ Theatre on the high school campus, 625 Park Ave.
Each recipient is selected by the person or group establishing the scholarship. The decision is the donor’s, said Gregory. With a record $370,000 in scholarship money this year contributed by local residents, civic groups, foundations and businesses, the selection process is “very competitive,” she said. “To say no is heart-wrenching.”
With 14 new scholarships this year, the amount is up from last year’s high mark of $355,000.
“We never thought we’d top that,” said Mark Powell, first-year president of the foundation. “At the end of the night, when you see how many scholarships were awarded and how much money the community’s put into it, it’s remarkable.”
Of the new awards, one possesses an added, anonymous surprise. The parents of a special education student, a junior at the high school, decided to give a $1,000 scholarship to honor their daughter, who won’t know until tonight. The award is going to a senior who generously helped special ed students throughout her school years, said Gregory.
To keep students interested, another new scholarship, Safe Rides through High School, is being provided by juniors Alex Rounaghi and Tessa Saxe. Safe Rides provides a sober driver for teens who have been drinking and need a ride. Alex and Tessa provided the money to fund the $500 award, Gregory said, and hope to raise outside funds by next year’s convocation. The Laguna Beach Historical Society also pitched in for the first time this year with a $1,000 scholarship for a student with a penchant for historical research.
The new Keep Imagining More scholarship for five recipients is a memorial award honoring Kimberlee Gershenson, daughter of Victoria Strombom and Richard Gershenson. Kim graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 1983 and died in 2013 from cancer.
Kim was a successful executive recruiter in the San Francisco Bay area, said her mother. “She was a kind, self-made young woman, and she always brought people up with her,” said Strombom. “She really cared about people.” Kim’s brother, Clay, came up with the name of the scholarship and the acronym, KIM, as a description befitting his sister’s zest for life. Another sister, Claire, also participated in the scholarship process. The family asked applicants to write an essay on “why you love life” and received 35 responses.
“Some of these kids are doing everything right and come from the heart and are falling through the cracks,” said Strombon. “We want to show them that somebody cares.”
Another new memorial award of $1,000 will be given to an art student to honor Lu Campbell, a local artist who passed away this year, by her husband, John Campbell.
The total amount of scholarships has increased this year due to the new awards as well as the generosity of existing donors, said Gregory. For the second consecutive year, the Assistance League is providing a $24,000 scholarship based on sales from its thrift store. The Masson Foundation doubled their water polo scholarship to $20,000, which will be split between two boy and two girl athletes. The Massen-Greene Foundation is giving a $20,000 environmental scholarship for the second year, Gregory said.
The Rotary Club’s Grapes for Grads fundraiser is providing a $20,000 scholarship and another $5,000 award to the student-of-the-month. The Festival of Arts is offering $33,000 renewable scholarships split between several students, which will continue as long as the student fulfils the criteria for the scholarship, she said.
Another outstanding award is the Crevier Scholarship given by local resident Don Crevier, said Gregory. “Every year it’s different,” she said. In the past, one interview was so impressive that Crevier funded the student’s entire college career, she said.
“This is an incredibly talented senior class,” said Gregory, “artistically, musically, academically, athletically. We’ve got more students who’ve won sports awards than any other year. It is a stellar class.” The night of the awards, the theater is nearly filled with chatty friends and neighbors, the atmosphere is one of a warm family gathering, celebrating and supporting their children’s accomplishments, she said.
The scholarship foundation, which offers need- and merit-based awards, also initiated a new fund this year, the Breaker Opportunity Fund. The fund accepts any amount from anyone who wants to contribute. “We help students going to train in vocational schools,” said Gregory, “beauty school, underwater welding, fire academy, as well as students going to community colleges. We are committed to every student along the way as well as those going to four-year universities. There’s no amount too small.”View Our User Comment Policy