The Precedent

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Capturing the past and present

Elizabeth Tompkins sits in the class room studio as a student takes her portrait.

Elizabeth Tompkins sits in the class room studio as a student takes her portrait.

Dana Hubbard

Dana Hubbard

Elizabeth Tompkins sits in the class room studio as a student takes her portrait.


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For the last nine years, Elizabeth Tompkins has mentored hundreds of students behind the lenses of Cannons, Nikons, and little black cardboard boxes with pinholes.

The former Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer came to PHS in the fall of 2010 to teach photography, and soon turned an elective class into a well-oiled Film 1, Film 2, AP, and commercial photography class.

Her students have won dozens of state awards for photography and two have won national recognition. Some have continued their work in college, and some have taken what they’ve learned in D100 and turned it into a career.

But for Tompkins, the end of the 2018 semester will mark a transition in her own career of teaching social studies. Tompkins shares that the way that she grew up has shaped her love of history, “we did not go to theme parks, but my dad loaded us up into the station wagon and we went to national parks, and civil war battle sites, and places like Mt. Rushmore.” With a focus in American history, Tompkins has developed a foundation from the very start of her life that has carried on to this day.

The natural-born historian has always dreamed of having a career that involved history. Joining Perry in the 2010-2011 school year, Tompkins went into an interview with Principal Dan Serrano, with the original focus of teaching U.S history, “He then saw my photography background and asked if I could teach photography, and I was thrilled with either.” What made Serrano, so confident with offering a fine art position to a history teacher? Was it the Pulitzer Prize, or the years of photography that Tompkins has experienced.

A Pulitzer Prize is a national award given to 13 people each year for their achievement in American journalism, literature or music. Being one of the few winners, Tompkins shares that “I did not believe it because it was just before the internet, so I heard it from a friend who called me from Georgia and I thought he was kidding so I didn’t believe him, but when I found out it was real it kind of validated a life times worth of work.”

This is one of the biggest honors that a photographer can receive. While she was very grateful for the award and the recognition, this had closed the doors for shooting photography and had transitioned her into picture editing.

One of the biggest questions students have been asking is how and if she will use her career in photography to enhance the way that she will teach history. Tompkins has already introduced the combination of history and photography to her current students, “In teaching it just comes up a lot, and telling students that our pictures are our history, and that we will look back at our life in pictures.”

The new year experienced teacher has no fears about transitioning from a fine art class into a core class. Following her dreams is one thing that Tompkins practices on a daily basis, this is one lesson that she would like her students to always remember as well as the lesson that “we can do anything if we work hard and believe in ourselves and not letting distractions bog us down, I love seeing you guys do really well and see you guys move on and grow into your passions.”

Even though this well-loved photographer is closing the door on one passion, she is opening the door to another. Her students wish her nothing but the best of luck and yet another successful journey to add to her life.

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The student voice of Perry High School
Capturing the past and present