Sunday, June 9, 2013

An Embarrassment of Riches

The Laguna Beach High School Senior Honors Convocation is like a colonoscopy: important, dreaded, good for you, and you're really glad when it's over. The only difference is that, after the convocation ceremony, it takes a day or two for feeling to return to your bum.

For the uninitiated, this was the evening when 111 sponsoring service clubs, foundations, families, school groups, and various citizens, under the umbrella of the LBHS Scholarship Foundation, presented 271 awards to 107 individuals for a total of $328,955 in scholarships for graduating LBHS seniors. Gifts range in value from $200 to one full-ride, all-expense-paid, four-year scholarship. In addition to the  scholarships granted at the convocation to the Class of 2013, the LBHS Scholarship Foundation provided another $100,000+ to past LBHS grads from 2010, 2011, and 2012 for multi-year scholarships.

Did I mention that on Friday night, one hundred eleven different sponsors doled out scholarships, and that the ceremony took almost four hours? And that's not counting previously awarded scholarships for athletics, Rotary Club, specific universities, scouting, National Merit Scholars, AP scholars, and many others.

If you're a parent of an LBUSD student, know this: there is a scholarship for practically every graduate, so when the time comes, encourage your child to take the time to apply. There's a wide range of general  awards as well as highly specific areas where students can distinguish themselves: golf, linguistics, surfing, business, journalism, dance, drama, environmental stewardship, sober service – and selections are made based on both merit and need. All it takes is a careful perusal of the available scholarships and their criteria, and applying – which can mean simply filling out a form, writing an essay or interviewing with a committee.

Bottom line: the generosity of this community cannot be understated.

Initiated in 1947 by the Ebell Club, the scholarship program has become a big night for hometown philanthropy that supports our grads. Dozens of hardworking citizens toil throughout the year to put together this ceremony where hundreds of thousands of dollars are distributed to the graduating class. It's difficult not to get a little verklempt when you see a kid striding across the stage, head held high, collecting a scholarship when you know she had a rough time focusing on school due to heartbreaking circumstances at home, or witness the sheer happiness on the face of the boy with special learning challenges, thrilled beyond words to hear his name announced.

On this night, we recognize and reward the overcoming of hardship. We praise perseverance. We reward focus and passion. Some names are repeated again and again, others are announced once. We hear the stories of one amazing young person after another. We maybe also zone out a teeny bit here and there as the awards tick by, some with one winner, some requiring traffic control onstage because there are as many as 25 recipients.

We hear poignant tales of the people in whose name scholarships have been established. We listen to long – yes, it must be said, boring – verbal resumés of scholarship winners from presenters who didn't get the memo about brevity. We sigh over the tragedy and triumph of a surrogate family that's been created over the years via the scholarship a father established in the name of his deceased teenage son. His newly reconstituted circle includes a young man who once received the scholarship and is now home, a veteran of numerous tours of Iraq and Afghanistan with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He received the night's only standing ovation.

How we long for the hook to release us from the tyranny of the sweet little lady at the lectern. Not to judge by the dollar sign, but did that presenter really just spend five precious minutes taking us through her club's history and giving us the entire resume of the recipient...of $250? Lighthearted moments were welcomed like water in a desert, as were the brief, no-nonsense presentations by highly regarded LBHS principal Dr. Joanne Culverhouse. Refreshing too was the spontaneous doubling of one award. Once onstage, a boy and a girl winner  of the "Driven to the Max" scholarship were each asked to name another senior in the auditorium who exemplifies the positive qualities for which they received their award, and the gift was instantly doubled with awards to their friends.

How we appreciated the thoughtful decision of the man announcing that the scholarship funds established for a beloved daughter who died in high school will be disbursed this year among four recipients, the balance given to the LBHS scholarship fund. It was too hard on the family, he said, and the time has come to close this chapter of their lives. How humble; how kind and sensible. It's ok for traditions to end to make room for new ones. We wonder if anyone else might consider taking his lead. There are, after all, 111 scholarship presenters, and more each year – 12 new ones on Friday night. Honoring a loved one can mean simply funding the larger established organization, á la Warren Buffett entrusting the Bill Gates Foundation to intelligently bequeath his money to worthwhile initiatives.

Yet, we have to trust the motivation and give the benefit of the doubt when the pursuit is of homegrown educational scholarships. It's perhaps a literal pain in the bum to sit through it all, but what a bounty of blessings, what an embarrassment of riches from this resource-abundant community. It's all good.

But it's especially good when, after the marathon ceremony, you walk through the lobby, legs numb, eager to breathe fresh air, and catch in the corner of your eye an emotional moment: a boy whose family has few financial resources being hugged by his mother as she dissolves into joyful tears. A new world has been opened to him tonight. He will go to college because his community, in the form of the Laguna Beach High School Scholarship Foundation, supports him. Right there – that's the payoff for us all.

[A complete listing of scholarships and recipients can be viewed here.]