WEST PALM BEACH Brilliant and articulate Inlet Grove Community High School students took center stage Saturday night at the 10th annual, “My Teacher, My Hero” Awards gala, held at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach. Lawyer, life coach, author and TV host Iyanla Vanzant was keynote speaker for the affair, but even she couldn’t help but notice how poised and well spoken the students were as they presented local teachers with awards in various categories in a style similar to the Academy Awards. The students announced the nominees in select categories and the winner,  as it was displayed on large screens in the convention hall. “These students are so articulate, so courageous,” said Vanzant as she took to the stage. “It saddens me that we don’t see this level of students on the news.”

WPBF-TV news reporter Angela Rozier, who was mistress of ceremonies, concurred.  “I don’t know about you, but when I was their age, I couldn’t speak in front of a crowd like this,” said Rozier, who has served as M.C. for the event eight times.  Her Master of Ceremonies was Inlet Grove junior Lorenz Small, who kept the crowd entertained with his humor.

But the essence of the night – honoring teachers – was captured brilliantly by Vanzant as she lauded teachers and told humorous stories of her own forays as a kindergarten teacher, while she was in college. Vanzant holds a minor in education.  Vanzant says although she didn’t do too well with the kindergartners, over the course of her multi-faceted career, she has discovered she is indeed a teacher at heart. “It’s necessary to be clear on who you are. I am a teacher,” she told the crowd of nearly 500 –  many of whom were educators. “You matter. You know that without you, these minds would go to waste….and there’s something in you that can’t fathom that,” she told the educators who were present.

Vanzant said teachers change lives. “As a teacher, you get one shot to draw  ‘genius’ out of a student. You get one shot. You can’t afford to miss your chance,” she cautioned them. She likened teachers to a midwife, who helps birth lives. “As a teacher, you birth people into a new way of being. You birth new life out of that student. And you do it because you love it,” she said.  She even quoted pop culture icons EMINEM and Beyonce to make her point. She referred to both recording stars as “great philosophers,” bringing the crowd to a tumultuous laughter. “EMINEM said, ‘What would you do if you had only one shot – one opportunity to have what you want?’ Who knew that he was a philosopher?!” she quipped, as the crowd laughed. And she quoted Beyonce’s tune, Love on Top, indicating love makes a difference in teaching.

Vanzant reiterated she is who she is today because of teachers.  “I have a thirst for learning. And I will study anything. And that’s because of teachers,” she shared.

The night began with students honoring teachers they chose for various categories. The teachers were selected from throughout the county, not just Inlet Grove.  The following Palm Beach County teachers were selected for honors:

• Passion Award: David Sellepack, Riviera Beach Maritime Academy

• Classroom Management Award: Gina Mateo, Palm Beach Lakes High School

• Effective Discipline Award: Sterling Frederick, Boynton Beach High School

• Good Humor Award: Meghan Hess-Shamdasani, South Technical Academy

• Educational Visionary Award: Maureen Holtzer, Palm Beach Central High School

• Communication with Parents Award: Orson Walkes, Pahokee High School

• High Expectations Award: Anna Gratale, Boynton Beach High School

• Flexibility and Creativity Award: Tamara Smith, Palm Beach Lakes High School

• Champion of Reading Award: Ester Boyd-Mitchell

• Provides for Individual Difference Award: Janet Morton, South Technical Academy

• Elizabeth Taylor Scholarship Recipient: Darion Patrick, Pahokee High School

Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts student Alisha Bryant capped-off the night with beautiful renditions of Whitney Houston’s “I Look to You,” and Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” honoring the educators.

Inlet Grove Principal, Dr. Emma Banks, creator of the event, says it was a sensational night. “The night went spectacular with Iyanla Vanzant’s amazing speech giving everyone life, breath and spirit.  Congrats to all of this year’s winners who have worked very hard to be each child’s light and inspiration.