Excellence in Education Banquet: 35 Years of Celebrating Students

Thirty-five years ago, Al Sowards had an idea.

As Loudoun school system’s social studies and gifted program supervisor, he’d noticed how banquets were held in honor of student athletes and band members, but there wasn’t an event like that to celebrate students with excellent grades.

So he got to work on organizing and fundraising for the event. He booked the Leesburg Baptist Church, and asked his wife to repurpose Loudoun County High School Homecoming decorations to brighten up the meeting hall. The couple invited 18 high school students to attend and bring a teacher who had who most influenced their pursuit of academic excellence as a guest.

“I thought it’d be great to recognize the students and the team of people who supported these students—teachers and parents,” Sowards said in an interview Sunday. “I never would have thought this would continue for 35 years and grow to honor 300 students. It’s just unbelievable.”

Loudoun County Public Schools put on its 35th Excellence in Education banquet Sunday. The event has grown along with the school system’s enrollment. To fit the hundreds of student honorees, their family members and teachers, the event is split into two sessions—an afternoon and evening banquet—at the National Conference Center.

This year, 325 students were recognized, along with hundreds of family members and teachers. Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) described this year’s banquet was “bigger and better than ever.”

“Today we honor those who have given our students a spectrum of support,” Morse said.

National Merit Scholar semifinalists were also honored, as well as Loudoun County’s 2017 Principal of the Year—John Champe High School Principal John Gabriel—and Loudoun County’s 2017 Teacher of the Year—Stone Bridge High School teacher Kathleen Thompson.

Since 1983, the Excellence in Education banquet has celebrated the accomplishments of 5,338 students.

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