"I want to congratulate each of you on your accomplishment as educators and on the value your community places upon you as a role model and leader," McGlothlin said. "You are building the bright future we hope for in our region, and we appreciate you so much."
The winners must use $10,000 of their $25,000 prizes within a year for international travel or study to broaden their thinking and experience and to further enhance their excellence as professional educators.
Upon receiving the award, Cregger said he will travel to Europe, "where classical art lives," he noted. "What better place to see it all? I want to bring back to my students a renewed love for the classics, and a healthy respect for the great masters that we strive to emulate."
Hampton, who earned a master's degree in educational leadership from RU in 2013, said she plans to travel to Finland, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand.
"The reason why I would like to visit these countries is because, for many years, they have consistently been ranked top in education," Hampton explained. "I want the opportunity to get into these school systems and to talk with these teachers and meet with the principals and find out what it is they're doing in their school systems that's making it work, that's making it click for their students."
In their acceptance speeches, both winners graciously thanked co-workers, friends, loved ones as well as the McGlothlin Foundation, RU, Blue Ridge PBS and everyone involved in the celebration. Cregger's passionate expression of gratitude to his students captivated the audience and took the listeners on an emotional rollercoaster with lots of laughter and a few tears.
"And now the important people, the 620 honey sweethearts, stinkers, love bugs and sugar boogers back at High Point Elementary School," he said with his voice cracking. "Thank you for letting me ruin so many of your nice clothes. Thank you for letting me hang up your art work, even though I know you're dying to take it home. Thank you for the hugs, the 'I love yous.' I promise to always give you my very best. If that means wearing silly costumes, reading to you in a Shrek voice, working on the weekends, stuffing pool noodles in my shirt and acting like a Swedish bodybuilder, or even teaching you about seven-sided polygons and intersecting lines in art class, that's what I will do. I want you to know you are smart, talented and capable of great things."
Accepting her award, Hampton said to the gathering, "I am a very lucky teacher and grateful that I teach in a school system where every day I am surrounded by fellow educators and administrators and superintendents who exemplify excellence in everything that they do and they cause me to want to exemplify that same excellence and to be the very best that I can be for our students."
Charles Sydnor, executive director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum and former president of Emory & Henry College, delivered the keynote address.
"We learn from other human beings, from what others tell and how they act, from the convictions that come from the examples they set and then have the wisdom to live, and from how they change us and change our lives," he said. "Teachers do this more frequently and to greater effect than anyone else.
Sydnor went on tell a story – "a story I have never before told in public," he said – about a geography teacher, Mrs. Banks, who taught Sydnor in his senior year of high school and utilized her teaching instincts to help him turn around his academic career from "the bottom one-third of my graduating class," he noted.
"This happened to me in a way I know for certain has to countless other students whose lives have been affected just as profoundly by teachers as mine was by Mrs. Banks," Sydnor said.