Why Some Schools Are Getting Rid Of Class Valedictorians

Valedictorian Speech
Flickr | AliHanlon

Being a valedictorian of your graduating class is a major point of pride, not to mention an impressive bragging right for college applications. Valedictorians are usually honored at a school’s graduation for having the highest grade point average (GPA) in their class and are often selected to address the graduation audience with a speech.

In my high school, there was a stiff competition between two students to see who would be the ultimate victor as class valedictorian when we reached graduation day. If I’m not mistaken, some tears were shed. Now, some schools are phasing out the tradition of naming a valedictorian for that very reason—the concern that it breeds unhealthy competition among students.

valedictorian photo
Flickr | AliHanlon

About half of U.S. schools no longer report class rank, according to the National Association of Secondary School Principals. According to Bob Farrace, a spokesperson for the association, in addition to the concern about overblown competition, administrators worry that large differences in class rank will adversely affect students’ college admittance prospects, despite the relatively small differences in their actual GPAs.

In other words, a student with a 3.9 GPA might be ranked 12th in her class if 11 other students had a 4.0 GPA. This makes it look like she was not at the top her class, even though a 3.9 GPA is still really, really good.

However, not all students are embracing the idea of eliminating valedictorians. “I think it’s pretty stupid, and I don’t think it’s fair,” Ryan Walters, a student at the top of his class in Wake Forest, North Carolina, which did away with the practice, told Fox News. “Wake County is recognizing mediocrity, not greatness.”

At Melrose High School outside of Boston, for example, the school committee voted to reinstate the valedictorian title after eliminating the honor just three years prior. The committee cited student feedback, collected via a survey, which indicated that 87% of students and 95% of faculty supported reinstating the tradition.

valedictorian photo
Flickr | mendo_video_productions

Some suggest that if schools want to honor top academic performers, they should explore using the Latin honor system. Latin honors like “summa cum laude” and “magna cum laude” are how many colleges recognize academic achievement.

“If I had my druthers, we would have the Latin honor system, where students are granted honors based on achievement in comparison to a standard, rather than achievement based on competition with each other,” Melrose School Committee member Ed O’Connell told WickedLocal.

What do you think? Should schools do away with naming a valedictorian, or is a time-honored tradition that should stay put?

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About the Author
Kate Streit
Kate Streit lives in Chicago. She enjoys stand-up comedy, mystery novels, memoirs, summer and pumpkin spice anything. Visit Scripps News to see more of Kate's work.

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