Yosemite High School’s 18 valedictorians, from the class of 2017, were honored May 1 during the 31st Annual Paul and Martha Pitman awards banquet at Ducey’s on the Lake.
The valedictorians, in alphabetical order, were Riley Ashton, Jericolouis Garcellano, Brandon Healey, Emilie Jones, Elise Keeler, Audrey Lazar, Isabel McGoldrick, Lucina Montoya, Evan Morton, Laura Pearson, Trevor Peter, Lauran Peterson, Matthew Roberts, Georgina Royse, Jennifer Springer (ASB president), Katie Thompson and Alexander Williams.
Sierra Tel’s Public Relations Supervisor and the 2016 Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year, Laura Norman, served as master of ceremonies for the evening and the invocation was given by Dr. Angelo Pizelo.
Principal Randy Seals congratulated the students and presented each one with a portfolio from Sierra Tel containing a certificate of achievement from Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, along with a gift from the school.
A new format this year gave 10 teachers and staff members more time to lovingly “roast” the valedictorians.
The presentations were very heartfelt and emotional. Teachers presenting including Matt Skeahan, Steve “Senior” Browning, Tammy Thacker, Rebecca Hardison and Lars Thorson.
Norman told the gathering that Pitman Awards Banquet is her favorite event of the year.
“It gives me great pleasure to recognize these scholars for all of their hard work and accomplishments,” Norman said. “My second favorite event closely follows and is also in partnership with YHS, Patriot Day on Sept. 11 that was moved to YHS in 2016. The veterans who attended, many of whom have attended all 14 times it has been held, said having the entire student body in attendance made it even more moving and meaningful for them. The students were attentive, thoughtful, and completely appropriate throughout the program.”
Norman also recognized the parents and guardians of the students for their hard work and dedication to their children over the years. She asked the students to set their pride aside when their parents take them to college and want to buy them supplies and help get things set up.
“It’s how we show our love and reassures us that we are leaving you all in good shape ... and to the parents I ask you all that once they have accomplished these tasks to take your leave, even if you need a good cry in the parking lot before getting back on the road home,” Norman said.
For dessert, each of the 18 students received a personalized cupcake created by Laura Zabicki of Sweet Dreams Cakery.
The banquet was sponsored by Sierra Tel and the Oakhurst Sierra Sunrise Rotary Club.
Paul and Martha Pitman
The banquet is named for Paul and Martha Pitman, who were both educators in their 70s when they relocated to Oakhurst to retire. That retirement would be short-lived as the couple became the driving force behind the formation of Yosemite High School.
The late Harry Baker, who was president of the Eastern Madera County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Sierra High School Board at the time, stated that Paul Pitman had come to him and said, “I understand you’re working for a new high school - is there anything I can do?”
Martha Pitman was the chairman of the Citizen Committee and Paul M. Pitman was the education counselor for the five mountain elementary school districts.
Dr. Pitman was appointed acting superintendent for Yosemite High School until Feb. 28, 1974.
At one point, the State Department of Education rejected the request for another high school, but the Pitmans managed to find an obscure way – by obtaining 33% of registered voters’ signatures in a petition – to get a hearing before the State Board of Education. On Sept. 18, 1973, the vote was 1,659 to 244 in favor of separation from the Sierra Joint Union School District and formation of a new district composed of students from Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Raymond Knowles, Wasuma and Bass Lake schools.
At the time, Mr. Pitman said more than half the voters were retirees who had neither children nor grandchildren who would benefit by a high school and yet in March, 1974, 88% of the registered voters voted for a combined bond and state loan of $5.2 million.
The school opened its doors to approximately 450 students in September 1976.
On June 13, 1986, the Yosemite High School Library was dedicated to Paul and Martha Pitman.