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Excellence in Education Banquet Turns 30

photoTimes-Mirror Staff Photo/Aaron Koepper. Seniors from Tuscarora High School in Leesburg sit for photographs after receiving their awards. 17 students from the school were honored.

Loudoun honored its 236 brightest students from each high school at the 30th Excellence in Education Banquet Sunday, all of whom placed in the top 5 percent of their class based on their first three years of academic performance.

The event allows students to bring the teacher they believe is the most influential in their life, with some invited from other states, including Florida and Maine. It included Loudoun students from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

The banquet was started in 1983 by Al and Jane Sowards, and was modeled after a similar banquet in Huntington, West Virginia given in honor of high school students who earned all A’s. Al is a retired Loudoun County social studies teacher and former gifted program supervisor, his wife, Jane, is a former Loudoun County teacher and now works in the school system’s public information office.

Al then spoke with Superintendent of Schools Robert Butt, who approved the banquet.

“As I was scratching my head as I went out the door I thought ‘what have I gotten myself into?’” Al said in a video during the ceremony. “I can’t remember how all of that came about but I guess the Lord took care of it.”

The Sowards held the first banquet in Leesburg Baptist Church and John Tolbert, Jr. helped cater.

“We had limited funds, there was no money for decorations, but being a woman, I thought we needed decorations,” Jane said. “So I brought over some of the candles and some of the other decorations we used for the homecoming dance.”

The first banquet had 18 students and now Superintendent Edgar Hatrick served as the keynote speaker.

“Oh, to be 37 again!” Hatrick said to the audience after seeing an image of his much younger self from the video.

Hatrick praised students and teachers for their achievements and hard work.

“The future of our county, our state, our nation and even the world depends on young people and educators such as those we are here to honor,” Hatrick said.

The banquet has been held at the National Conference Center in Leesburg since 2008.

Hatrick also honored The Washington Post’s 2012 Agnes Meyer teacher of the year award winner, Andrea Schlegel, a social studies teacher at Heritage High School.

“The legacy I wanted to leave behind is that I was very hard-working, I was passionate about what I did, that I was serious about what I did but that I didn’t take myself too seriously,” Schlegel said in a video before she accepted the award. “And hopefully that I stirred an interest in something and a passion whatever they [students] decide to do in their life.”

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