Some of Loudoun County’s brightest high school seniors were honored at the 34th annual Excellence in Education Banquet on Sunday.
The 300 students recognized at the event ranked in the top 5 percent of their class academically during the first three years of high school.
“All those late-night study sessions paid off,” Rock Ridge High School senior Andrew Zheng said, between snapping selfies with his friends at the banquet. “It’s kind of cool to be surrounded by so many other students who have worked so hard.”
Maria C. Lo Presti, a senior at John Champe High School, said, after working for years for good grades, she appreciates being recognized in such a way. “I wasn’t expecting it. It’s a fun surprise,” she said.
Student honorees also got to take one teacher who most influenced their pursuit of academic excellence as a guest to the banquet.
Mel Vahsen, who teaches AP Calculus and Algebra 1 at her alma mater, Loudoun County High School, remembers her senior year being an exciting time, and the Excellence in Education banquet was among the highlights. For the past three years, she’s attended the banquet as a guest of her students. This year, senior Jack Zent invited her.
“It’s really, really nice that they want to include me in such an important moment of their senior year,” Vahsen said.
Sundar Thirukkurugun, an Academy of Science teacher, has attended the event as a guest of his students six times. The invite always is an honor, he said, but also a reminder of the great responsibility he has as an educator.
“We as teachers see them for a small percentage of time of their life and to think we can make an impact on their life that affects them for years makes me realize every moment we spend with them in the classroom has to be done very carefully,” he said. “Sometimes that can be a stressful thought.”
The idea of celebrating excellence in education was introduced in 1983 by Al Sowards, who then served as Loudoun County Public Schools social studies and gifted program supervisor. The first banquet was held at Leesburg Baptist Church with 18 students being honored. The event is now split into two banquets each year at the National Conference Center to fit the hundreds of student honorees, their family members and their teachers.
Sunday’s event was made possible by donations and support from more than 20 sponsors, including businesses and individuals. The banquet is put on by nonprofit organization Loudoun Education Foundation and cost about $50,000. “It’s quite the undertaking,” said Dawn Meyer, executive director of the foundation. “It’s all because of a community effort that we can even host the event.”