Happy Lee, Bob Cha and Byanca Leyva have earned the honor of being on the wall at McLane High School. They would join David Carson, Marty Martin, Colleen Tudman and 338 other McLane graduates.
It’s been a decades-long tradition at McLane to permanently display the senior photos of the school’s highest achieving students on the wall of the main office.
Happy, Bob and Byanca are among 25 valedictorians in the Class of 2015 – all of whom should be included in the display.
The photo that started it all — that of 1960 valedictorian Kendall Carder, sporting a brushed crew cut, white dinner jacket and black bow tie — is a piece of nostalgia. But the old photos still speak to some of today’s students.
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“When I heard about the valedictorians, I thought, ‘Maybe that could be my goal,’ ” Happy told me recently. “The pictures inspired me.”
I felt the same way when I attended McLane from 1967 to 1970. I arrived in high school with typical insecurities, but getting good grades made me feel better about myself. Today, that sounds like a cliché. When I was 15, it didn’t.
I didn’t become a valedictorian, but I literally and figuratively looked up to the photos. They’re positioned above door frames and now stretch around several walls in the office.
McLane’s current principal, Scott Lamm, graduated from the school in 1977. He is not on the wall, but as a student, he thought it was a “big honor” to be up there. (By tradition, the photos of valedictorians and salutatorians are displayed. The former have a 4.0 grade-point average or above, while the latter have the highest GPA below 4.0. McLane has two salutatorians this year.)
Lamm is working to improve academic achievement at McLane while also trying to bring back traditions that faded in recent years, including the photos in the office.
The top McLane scholars of 2009 are the last to have their photos posted. Lamm said he intends to soon fill in the missing years. I hope he does.
Happy — who wants to become a veterinarian and will attend the University of California, Davis — said having her picture on the office wall would please her. “I hope later on, when I’m successful, my nieces and nephews could come here and be inspired,” she added.
David Carson, one of three valedictorians in 1969, said he doesn’t believe the old photos would mean much to today’s students. Nevertheless, he added, “I’m pleased to know that I left a piece of myself behind.”
Through the Internet, I found Carson in the U.S. Commerce Department, where he is head of copyright policy at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He previously served as general counsel of the U.S. Copyright Office.
Carson graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Law School. He later helped represent Hustler magazine and its publisher, Larry Flynt, when they were sued for libel by Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Carson calls the case “my most notorious accomplishment” while working in Los Angeles. He later moved to the East, where he still lives.
Carson wasn’t afraid of controversy at McLane. In his graduation speech, he criticized then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and denounced the Vietnam War. Some people didn’t like his words, Carson said, but “it was one of my proudest moments.”
Two years later, Marty Martin was one of several valedictorians in the Class of 1971. He graduated from Fresno City College, Westmont College and Loma Linda University Medical School, and today he is a pediatrician living in Fresno.
A few of Martin’s patients or their parents have seen his picture at McLane. “It’s nice to know they recognized me,” he said.
Martin has integrated his Christian faith professionally and personally to serve people around the world as well as down the block. He has made numerous trips overseas to meet medical needs in Kenya, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Thailand and Cambodia, which he visited earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Martin and his wife, Joanie, moved into the Lowell neighborhood near downtown Fresno in the early 1990s to be closer to Southeast Asian refugees they had befriended. They stayed for more than 20 years, helping folks learn English, become American citizens, get driver’s licenses and learn about Jesus.
“There’s a satisfaction in helping people,” Martin said.
Colleen Tudman earned her place on the wall almost 30 years after Martin. She graduated in 1997 and received two bachelor’s degrees from Fresno State — in business administration/finance and later in accounting. Her next goal is to become a certified public accountant.
Tudman works as a senior accountant and certified valuation analyst for Stoughton Davidson Accountancy Corp. in Fresno. In recent years, she took up long-distance running, completing eight half marathons (13.1 miles) in 2014. She’s done five so far this year.
“That can-do attitude I had in high school stuck with me,” Tudman said.
So many more names and photos line the walls: Sally Popovich (1964), Delwyn Chinn (1968) Stephen Kalomiris (1972), Linda Ramos (1975), Toni Lentz (1981), Patrick Kogoma (1985) Adisack Nhouyvanisvong (1990), Svetlana Yanovsky (1992), Sam Hannah (1995), Vang Mee Moua (1997), Alejandro Carrillo (2004), Christian Garcia (2007) . . .
The list leads us back to 2015.
Among this year’s valedictorians, Bob Cha will attend Fresno State and wants to be a pharmacist. Becoming a valedictorian honors his family and having his photo on the wall would show how hard he worked, Bob said.
Fellow valedictorian Byanca Leyva also will attend Fresno State and hopes to become a lawyer. Make that “a successful lawyer,” Byanca added with a smile and then explained what she meant.
“A lot of people get a degree but don’t do anything with it. When I say I’m going to be successful, I’m communicating I will try my hardest to reach my goals.”
She paused and added: “I’m deep.”
Doug Hoagland, a free-lance journalist, worked for 40 years on newspapers in the Valley. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.