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Time to change who is honored come graduation

Based on the hard feelings and oversights they appear to be causing

as more and more students meet and exceed grade-point standards that

once appeared nearly unreachable, area high schools might be

well-served to scrap the traditional valedictorian/salutatorian

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system for recognizing students and opt for something a bit more

egalitarian.

In the past few years, the tales have grown of students who have

achieved 4.0 grade-point averages -- and even higher -- while

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participating in a variety of school activities, yet have missed out

on a chance at valedictorian or salutatorian because other students

focused solely on earning A’s in more heavily weighted AP classes,

along with all their others. The traditional system -- not in place

at all schools, but at many -- gives the graduating student with the

best GPA the title of valedictorian, and the next-best student

salutatorian. Traditionally, those students also speak at

commencement.

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In more than a few instances, this has resulted in students whose

sole focus has been academics -- no sports, no clubs, no volunteer

work, no other school-related activities -- being honored at

graduation, while others who achieved the once-lofty 4.0 pinnacle

were left in the shadow of someone, or several someones, whose AP

grades pushed their GPAs to 4.1 and even higher.

Certainly, no one wants to discourage students from getting the

best grades they can. Good grades in such high-level classes are a

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testament to a student’s academic work ethic and commitment.

But there is also a lot to be said for emerging from high school

as a well-rounded human being, and it’s the students who have sampled

a little bit of everything high school has to offer, and have

maintained good-but-not-perfect grades, who often get the short end

of the stick come graduation.

What’s more, automatically handing commencement-speaker honors to

the two or three students with the best grades doesn’t mean

graduates, parents, faculty and staff are getting the best possible

speeches or speakers. One could legitimately argue that a student who

didn’t have perfect grades but made an effort to participate in a

variety of school and outside activities has a much more realistic

world perspective to offer graduates than someone who’s spent their

entire high-school career only studying and going to class.

A significant change is needed to recognize both outstanding

academic achievers and those with a combination of academics and

other activities that makes them special. One idea: Recognize at

graduation all students who achieve a 4.0 or better, and present some

kind of award to the student with the highest GPA, but lose the

valedictorian and salutatorian titles and make the speaking honors a

competition open to any graduate. A committee of students and

teachers, or separate committees, could hold auditions a month before

school ends and decide who has the best speech. For all they know, it

could be a senior who’s spent most of high school earning B’s and

C’s, but is on the baseball team, has a part-time job and has been in

a play or two.

Not surprisingly, in today’s cutthroat world, many high-school

students who focus solely on academics consider earning the

valedictorian or salutatorian prize as “winning” high school.

Ironically, for students with grades that good, those titles probably

couldn’t matter less, as far as their futures are concerned. They

were accepted into the college of their choice long before

commencement titles were decided, and getting that final honor has no

bearing on ... well, on anything, really. Yet the sting from not

being recognized as an excellent student will stay with those who

came close, but not close enough, because they did other things.

It’s possible to recognize all types of individuals at graduation,

not just the ones with the biggest numbers after their names. If they

haven’t done so already, our area high schools should change the

valedictorian/salutatorian system to something a bit more inclusive

-- and get the best graduation speakers out of the deal, as well.


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