Top of their Class: On Valedictorians

Top of their Class: On Valedictorians

Graduation day is a time for pomp and circumstance, laughter and tears, hugs and goodbyes.  It’s also the occasion of the valedictory address, given by the highest ranked student in the entire class. Those speeches can range from entertaining to poignant to dry, but their content hasn’t been the source of controversy. In recent years, school districts across the country have grappled with a common question: whether to have a valedictorian at all.

At North Point, the valedictorian is determined by ranking students by their final, weighted grades over four years. If there is a tie, multiple students can share the title. (Out of three graduating classes, two have had two valedictorians.)

Opponents of naming a valedictorian use several arguments to defend their points. Among them are the fact that some students have unfair advantages over others and the idea that cumulative grade point average is not a true measure of a student’s success. Some argue that the valedictorian should be the student with the most involvement or school spirit, a more full representation of the ‘ideal student’. Perhaps the award should be given to all students above a certain GPA level. Or maybe the student giving the big speech should be voted on by the student body.

“It (class rank) is rating you – like you’re better than other people,” said Amber Johnson (’12).

It is true that some students benefit from taking Advanced Placement and Honors courses that can inflate their GPAs. “I don’t understand the weighting of the grades here – why certain STIs get more weight than others,” said Mrs. C. Smith, an English teacher. It is also true that there is much more to students, and much more to high school, than letters on a report card.

However, upon examination, those arguments don’t hold up. AP and Honors classes are more challenging than their unweighted counterparts. Students who make the decision to challenge themselves with harder coursework should be rewarded with an extra .5 or 1 point added to their GPA. It’s only fair. And while a student certainly isn’t defined by their GPA, GPA defines a valedictorian. So, the clubs, sports, and leadership activities a student participates in do not matter. If people are looking for a “Most Well Rounded Student” award, I suggest they invent one. Valedictorian, however, is not it.

The idea that the valedictorian title can be shared between everyone in a certain percentile of the class is unfortunate. More than anything, that would water down the title to being absolutely meaningless.

“I think we should only name one person valedictorian or nobody valedictorian, because naming thirty people valedictorian just loses the effect,” said Jacob Moyer (’13).

The definition of valedictorian is very specific – it is the student with the absolute highest GPA. People who are near the top of their class, but not number one, should be proud of themselves and their accomplishments. They are obviously exceptional students. But they are not the most exceptional student.  Besides, being named valedictorian in itself is a pretty limited honor. The only real rewards are being able to give a speech and being in the school calendar. “I really enjoy the speeches – it’s the only perk they get,” said Smith. This only proves the point that there need not be controversy over naming a valedictorian: let the chosen person take pride in his or her accomplishment, and let everyone else enjoy the speech and the ceremony.