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The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards

The annual Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards publicly recognize specific teachers by spotlighting their extraordinary impact on the lives of students. The Awards celebrate the teaching profession, the important role of teachers in society, and seek to inspire others to pursue this noble profession. Nominated by students they once taught, these former students' stories exemplify the power one teacher has to inspire others and transform lives.

Find out more about how to nominate your teacher for the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards.

Nominations for the 2019 cycle of the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards are currently being accepted.

2014 Awardees

Ellen Beck photo Dr. Ellen Beck "There is no greater joy than to inspire learners, creating environments where students become the artists of their lives and achieve wellbeing. To teach is to nourish mind, body, and spirit, giving students the knowledge, tools, and belief in themselves to overcome obstacles, face their fears and achieve their dreams."

Eric-Parsons-Photo Nominated byDr. Eric Parsons "In those 15 minutes, I saw everything I wanted to become as a doctor: mindful, connected, caring, culturally competent, spiritual--a healer." Read More

Linda-de-Vries Linda de Vries "I became a teacher because I was taught. At three decision points in my life a teacher reached out to reveal a path that led me to strive for excellence. I learned that to teach was to open doors, to challenge, and to transform. I could imagine no greater vocation."

Gabriel-Ortiz Nominated byGabriel Ortiz "I don't remember what she said, or how she convinced me to stay. But I do remember that this woman got me. She reached across the lines of socio-economics, race, class, gender, and privilege to show she cared, and remind me that I was somebody. She made a connection." Read More

Kristin-Grant Kristin Grant "I am a teacher; my calling is to stimulate, challenge, and encourage my students to find their strengths, their way to contribute to our world. I want them to know that they can achieve a goal that seems unreachable, that perseverance obliterates obstacles, and that caring and generosity are contagious."

Zoey Bond Nominated byZoey Bond "Through one simple challenge–"What can you do now?"–Mrs. Grant urged thirteen-year-old me to think big and embrace my potential to positively affect the world." Read More

Erin-Grocki Erin Grocki "I had wonderful teachers who inspired me growing up. Now, I try to teach kids to let go of the fear of failing and learn from mistakes, accept challenges, find patience and become creative problem solvers. Enjoying the process of creating transfers over to enjoying our day-to-day lives."

Gina Mudge Nominated byGina Mudge "I was facing setbacks in the form of a skeptical single mother who was sending off the first person in our family to go to college, and she was determined that it would most certainly not be an art college." Read More

Mike-Gyra Michael Gyra "I am inspired by the words 'service to others is the rent we pay for being alive.' Serving students by playing a role in their ‘Eureka!’ moments, those crystallizing moments that may resonate with them at a crossroads and help redefine their thinking, makes teaching an honor and a privilege."

Russell Brillant Nominated byRussell Brillant "The most significant event for me in Mr. Gyra's famous astronomy class was not presenting our senior projects… Rather, it was an insignificant occurrence that I know nobody who was in that room that day remembers except for me." Read More

Leonard-Norman-Primiano Dr. Leonard Norman Primiano "I can remember the first time a student said to me in a class: 'Now you taught us...' Wow, I thought, what a privilege and responsibility it is to teach another individual anything, and especially to offer instruction about subjects that you respect and love. That is why I chose to be a teacher: I am passionate about passing on knowledge and guiding students through the wonderfully complex fields of Religious Studies and Folklore and Folklife Studies which mean so much to me and which I believe profoundly add to the quality of everyday life."

John Pino Nominated byJohn Pino "It was Dr. Primiano who inspired me to further my research in topics that interested me, and it was Dr. Primiano who inspired me to pursue graduate studies. More importantly, he inspired me to look at life in an entirely different way." Read More

See what leaders and celebrities have to say about the impact their favorite teachers had on them and the impact good teachers make on students, schools, and communities. With the following links: