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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.

2015 Awardees


John Carr (Posthumous)
Teacher

Dr. John C. Carr served on the faculties of the University of Maryland, College Park, and The Catholic University of America, among many other academic institutions. As an art advocate and educator, he developed programming and presentations with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Smithsonian Institute, The John F. Kennedy Center, and the Department of Defense.

Rosalind Flynn
Nominator

"Over the years, my telephone would ring and there would be Jack on the other end with more offer... Each offer would catch me by surprise, but if I ever expressed concern about being prepared for the opportunity, he'd always repeat what he said back in 1977: 'Nonsense, of course you are.'"

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Melissa Collins
Teacher

"In becoming a primary educator, I wanted to provide younger students with a concrete foundation where they can aspire to become mathematicians, historians, scientists, musicians, writers, and readers. Through innovative teaching, I develop critical and creative thinkers that are life-long learners. I teach because I want to inspire lives."

Gerita Perry
Nominator

"I remember her calling my name. The once shy, introverted student now stood proud and walked with confidence, proclaiming, 'I wanted to be a nurse!' I remember Dr. Collins telling me that 'I could be whatever I wanted if I worked hard and dared to dream...' That was the year I still can't forget."

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Jack Ellis
Teacher

"It was the fall of 1963.
Shari Clason was a first year English Literature teacher.

I was riveted with her passion and knowledge.
That resonated with me.
To touch student's hearts and souls was a challenge I eagerly sought.
And, I stood on the shoulders of Mrs. Clason."

Cheryle Kahl
Nominator

"Mr. Ellis had me come to his office and opened a large glossy booklet describing a two-week music seminar at one of Michigan's top music schools. I'll never forget his words, 'I can see you doing this.' Mr. Ellis had an incredible vision for me, one I would have never had for myself."

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JP Fugler
Teacher

"As a shy teenager with Tourette's Syndrome, I never expected a career in public speaking. Speech and debate helped me find my voice. That is why, as a high school sophomore, I vowed to make it my life's work to help the voiceless learn to speak."

Jacob Savage
Nominator

"The moment that sticks out most to me was when I won the St. Mark's Heart of Texas tournament—the very same tournament where my journey began one year prior—and I looked out to see Mr. Fugler beaming and cheering me on. Because of him, I wasn't just becoming. I was being."

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Vivian Fusillo
Teacher

"Even after 65 years of teaching I feared, 'What if I can't reach every one of my students?' After the first assignment, we were on our way to creating and learning from each other. Someone once said, 'You need a purpose for living.' Teaching is my purpose."

Barbara Hustedt Crook
Nominator

"By taking her cue from us, with her trademark joy and pizazz, she gave us the confidence to go with our own interests and strengths, wherever they might take us, all the way – in my case, from random words and sentences to a story of continuing growth that isn't done yet."

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Arthur Hall
Teacher

"Teaching empowers students and transforms their life; in turn, they create a transformation in my life as well. We have a saying, 'every day is training day.' We get to explore, learn, contribute, develop and we do all of this together."

Shawn Ray
Nominator

"Mr. Hall told us 'You can be bitter or you can be better. The only difference in the two words is the 'I' and the 'I' is the one to make the right choice.' 'I' am the only to do better."

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Joshua Hosler
Teacher

"I was fortunate, as an adolescent, to have several teachers recognize I was struggling to reach my potential. They were passionate though, and they taught me to love learning. Teaching allows me the chance to nurture that same feeling in others who have not yet recognized their infinite possibilities. "

Taylor Fasseel
Nominator

"Many people in my life have asked me what he did that was better than any other teacher. That moment answers this question. Up until that point, no other teacher seemed to care about my opinion, or valued my work."

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Arlene Kies
Teacher

"My passion in life is to help students determine and achieve their goals in music. Each student has a unique background, so a "one-size-fits-all" approach to teaching cannot succeed. My purpose is to cultivate a love of music in students that will remain, regardless of what career path they choose."

Valerie Peters
Nominator

"It was the first time that anyone tried to get inside my body & feel what I felt when I played piano. Arlene had only known me for twenty minutes but immediately she had the empathy to play like I did, so that she can best instruct me."


Gagik Melikyan
Teacher

"To be a teacher is the most exciting, most demanding, and most rewarding profession. I enjoy challenging my students, making them believe in themselves, creating life-changing opportunities, and putting them on the path to a prosperous future. And every new day is as exciting as the first day on the job as an educator."

Christopher Wild
Nominator

"Dry ice bubbled in silver dishes producing a thick, misty vapor, underscoring the mystery at the heart of my reluctance. I voiced my hesitation and began to decline the offer. Then, Professor Melikyan offered a phrase that marked the moment when I began to believe in myself. He simply said, 'if not you, then who?'"

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Teresa Parrott
Teacher

"Dedicating my life to guide students, passing down knowledge, and helping them realize they actually have great potential is the true joy of teaching. It goes beyond just teaching the material - it's about making a personal connection with the students to help them develop their talents and achieve their goals."

Bumjun Kim
Nominator

"One day, I found myself at a crossroads as I became completely enthralled in a lesson Mrs. Parrott taught about Desi Arnaz...I couldn't believe it, someone producing the inspirational vibes that music offered also hated school as a young boy and was uprooted from his country to the U.S. as well – I was living this life!"

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Tracey Rains
Teacher

"My earliest school-related memories are of 'teaching' my grandmother lessons I had learned the day before; she was my first pupil. As I grew older, I knew that I wanted to make teaching my career. I believe that the key to improvement for both individuals and communities is education."

Chelsea Hayes
Nominator

"Mrs. Rains is the reason a poor girl who once ate her meals from the local food bank now has a degree from Duke University. She is the reason I am working in the legal field today. She helped me break the cycle of poverty and achieve more than anyone else expected."

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Jim Robert
Teacher

"Be the change you want to see in the world!" I entered the teaching profession to inspire my students accordingly. What I didn't anticipate was how being in the presence of adolescents would thoroughly change me. For 27 years they have been teaching me to listen and inside that listening I have learned to teach."

Nora Rabiah
Nominator

"My guess is that he didn't do this intentionally to give me the confidence to speak up about my religion and culture throughout my life... I also do not think he did this so that I would become a teacher and hope to inspire my students the way he did. But this is exactly what happened."

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Evelyn Seubert
Teacher

"My father was a farmer. He survived a WWII prisoner-of-war camp by planting seeds. After the war, he planted a forest of 10,000 trees. I am a farmer. I plant seeds of curiosity, strength, courage, hope and compassion in young people, who can grow up to change the world."

Quyen Le
Nominator

"Great teachers don't tell you what to do; they create spaces that allow you to learn how. In that moment, Ms. Seubert trusted me with a responsibility no one had dared to give me before, the responsibility to create a learning space for myself."

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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:

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