By Justin Swanson | LB Indy
A 66-year history serves as testament to one of Laguna Beach’s special traditions, now an ingrained coming of age ritual for the town’s high school graduates.
Witness the $328,955 in scholarships awarded at Laguna Beach High School’s Honors Convocation last week to 107 graduates, the largest sum in the school’s history, according to foundation officials.
Fewer than half of the 251-member graduating class of 2013 were recipients of the 271 awards. Many received multiple awards, some tallying five figures.
“It’s a pretty amazing organization,” says Debbie Steel, a trustee of the Laguna Beach High School Scholarship Foundation, which acts as the go-between for students and donors. “All of the scholarships are unsolicited and come from a small community that believes in education.”
Indeed they do as the number of sponsors has risen to 111, including organizations, memorials, and families. There were six new donors this year, says LBHSSF President Kerry Rubel.
The standout award came by way of a full-ride college scholarship for Emma Deehan, courtesy of lifelong Laguna resident Donnie Crevier. Though he was not present, Crevier’s praises were sung roundly.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” says Jeannie Harrell, former scholarship coordinator for LBHSSF. “He saw himself in this student; she had such stamina.”
Crevier had a rough young life and learned the importance of perseverance, Harrell explained. Thus, he admires those who too overcome significant struggles, such as Deeham has. As Crevier sees it, just because one’s situation is not good does not mean one cannot do better. Crevier, Harrell says, has great admiration for Deehan.
“She has had a tough life, and Mr. Crevier saw she made the most of it,” Rubel says of Deehan, noting the student’s maturity, resiliency, and ability to persevere. “He wanted to give her an opportunity it took him a little later in life to realize. He wanted to make a difference in her life.”
Retired former science teacher Art Smart, now an LBHSSF trustee, says his friend, former owner of Santa Ana’s Crevier BMW and who now runs Crevier Classic Cars, has taken his personal successes and put them back into the community. Still, Smart says, Crevier does not like the limelight.
The night’s single largest award of $40,000 was split evenly between Spencer Anderson, Jared Boetes, Dylan Bush and Sydney Saxe, recipients of the Jessica Wagner Memorial Scholarship, which was liquidated. Rubel explained that for Jessica’s father, Jim Wagner, it was time to put to rest the painful memories of his daughter’s death. So, Rubel says, Wagner decided to distribute larger amounts and make a big difference for the students receiving it. Next year, the award will have a different name.
Another moment of drama was the presentation of the “Driven to the Max Award,” provided by Laguna resident Jay Blahnik.
Blahnik became inspired to donate scholarship money five years ago after reading a story about former LBHS student-athlete Max Mullender, who overcame a difficult childhood. Blahnik sought out the foundation to repay Mullender’s gift of inspiration with a monetary award, even naming it after him. Ever since, Blahnik has sought inspirational stories and rewarded hardworking students. As he sees it, as he does not have kids, this is his way of investing in the future.
Repeating a stunt he pulled during last year’s awards ceremony, Blahnik brought up the recipients of his $3,000 scholarship, Alexis Del Toro and Joseph Redfearn. Blahnik described them as inspirational people. He, in turn, asked each to name a student who inspires them. Blahnik promptly pledged to match the scholarship money for two more recipients, Mackenzi Baldridge and Armando Barraza.
The Festival of Arts also continues its tradition as one of the town’s largest scholarship benefactors, distributing more than $30,000 in awards last week, all of which are renewable over four years.
Giving and inspiration proved a recurrent theme throughout the night, demonstration of a small community’s unquenchable philanthropic spirit.
During a donor’s reception prior to the ceremony, two former LBHS students described how their lives have changed for the better, helped by scholarships they had received as students. Caroline Cannan, class of 2012, and Trevor Murphy, class of 1990, explained how they tried to live up to expectations and were able to pursue their dreams in part due to scholarships.
Harrell marvels that for the sheer number of scholarships and amount of money awarded, the ceremony and intention, “is unprecedented. Anywhere.”