Eight students stand in a line looking out at a very green Mono Lake with waves on it and with a tufa island and the Mono Craters in the distance, and they are all wearing cool-weather outdoor gear.

2020 Mono Lake Committee Scholarship recipients

Since 2008, the Mono Lake Committee has supported local students by awarding two $1,000 scholarships to Mono County high school seniors.

Two graduation portraits side by side. On the left, A smiling girl wearing a yellow graduation cap and gown against a red background, on the right, a boy in red graduation cap and gown with a gold Valedictorian neckline.
2020 Mono Lake Committee Scholarship recipients Keely Podosin of Mammoth High School and Ben Trefry of Lee Vining High School. Photos courtesy of each graduate.

We couldn’t think of a better time to continue our support than for the graduating class of 2020. We asked applicants to get close to the shoreline of Mono Lake without distractions and jot down what they saw, heard, smelled, and felt around them and then reflect on the question: Why do places like Mono Lake matter?

The essays we received this year were quite moving. Many of the students reflected on their final year of high school and transitioning into the next stages of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were frequent reflections of how calming nature can be as well as gratitude for living in places like Mono County during difficult times. The scholarship team had a tough time deciding on the 2020 scholarship recipients and after much deliberation selected Benjamin Trefry from Lee Vining High School and Keely Podosin from Mammoth High School for their thoughtful and moving essays.

Ben’s eloquent essay moves the reader to different places and times throughout the Mono Basin, beginning with a comparison of sounds at home in quarantine and at the shores of Mono Lake. He wrote, “Every day of it is the same, really. With three of us working or going to school over Zoom, my house these days is a cacophony of unnecessarily loud conversations. (Perhaps we instinctively talk louder over Zoom, hoping someone will just hear us the way they would in person.) But down here by the lake, the only sounds are, in order of loudness:

  1. The gentle but insistent washing of the waves
  2. The wind, a soft whistling in the grass
  3. The cries of birds, usually far, sometimes near as they glide over my head to survey me from the safety of their kingdom the sky. This is a sound from my childhood—those seagulls were always with us for recess on the school playground as the spring gave way to summer.
  4. The buzzing of the alkali flies, thousands in harmony.”

This year Lee Vining High School graduates celebrated at a small ceremony you can watch online, followed by a parade through Lee Vining, June Lake, and Mono City.

Keely’s essay made us ponder the effects of the pandemic on wildlife in the area and ourselves. She wrote, “The natural life at Mono Lake goes on, even when humans are put to a halt. The sun was out, the day was gorgeous, and everything felt normal. Sitting at Mono Lake’s edge, a sense of normality crept over my body. I was out, enjoying nature, as I love doing and had done so often before. I wasn’t worried about my proximity to other people; I didn’t feel sad about the outcome of my last year of high school, or potentially my first year of college. Sitting at Mono Lake’s edge, I felt content. Nature allows us to lose ourselves, to forget our thoughts and worries and focus on the beauty we are fortunate enough to enjoy. Places like Mono Lake allow us to put our lives in perspective and humble us.”

You can watch the Mammoth High School graduation ceremony online as well!

All Mono County high school seniors with firm plans to attend a 2 or 4 year college within a year of graduation are eligible to apply for the Mono Lake Committee Scholarship. If you have any questions about the scholarship program or would like to donate to the fund please contact me by email or at (760) 647-6595.

Top photo by Ava Stavros.