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More than one Number 1??

June 30, 2010

In a NYTimes article the other day, the reporter covered a recent trend in education nationwide. Some high schools have decided that selecting one student as valedictorian is unfair to the other A-plus students. Instead, they support multiple or group valedictorians to spread around the honor.

Before I get into this discussion, I must confess a personal bias. In 2002, I had the extreme honor of being my high school‘s valedictorian. There was definitely drama associated with this accomplishment, but when the smoke cleared I was one of three student speakers at our graduation – valedictorian, salutatorian and pro deo et schola (a student chosen as much for their academic excellence as for their overall character).

My school was small, as was my graduating class (approximately 85 students), but that did not lessen the pride I felt as I spoke to my classmates, our families and all members of our high school community. Throughout my academic career, I worked very hard for my grades. I studied for hours and spent long nights writing papers to get me to that point. The acknowledgement of my years of hard work is something I will carry with me wherever I go. It continued to push me in my schoolwork during college, and is still a driving force in my graduate work and in all aspects of my life.

The trend towards multiple valedictorians is near to my heart, and I see value to both sides of this argument.

By honoring just one of the many hard-working, deserving students, the others might feel a sense of disappointment at a lack of acknowledgement. They may feel slighted and angry, possibly even distraught. Scholarly success should be praised regardless of class rank. Why should fractions of a grade point place one person on a pedestal while countless more are left out of the spotlight?

On the other hand, we are a competitive society. We teach our children to pursue athletics and to be the best at their sport. There’s only one winning team in a baseball game, only one winner in a track event. There are debate clubs, chess clubs, scholarship competitions and other academic challenges in which there are clearly defined winners. Students are taught to seek excellence in every aspect of their lives. Why shouldn’t we publicly honor someone who meets that academic challenge throughout their high school career?

It’s a tough debate, one in which I hope you will participate. Do you think it’s unfair to single out one valedictorian rather than celebrating all of the above average students? Or should the highest overall G.P.A. win out?

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4 comments

  1. I’m inclined to agree with you, good sir.


  2. Maybe I am just too locked into the way it always was, but in some sense it seems more authentic from the teachers point of view to just have it go to one person. The teachers feel a certain pride for that one person. Many people are honored at graduations of course some students don’t graduate at all sometimes by a half credit. I wonder if it’s better for everyone to feel it was just one person. And there could still be a nasty cut off with group valedictorians. Spreading the honor around is nice, but I think I would be for sticking with one student to be given valedictorian status. Every student who did outstanding work, near the level of the valedictorian is going to be given significant awards at graduation anyway.

    -Teacher Emeritus


  3. I can understand your point, but then couldn’t that person just be chosen as a commencement speaker, like in college? Perhaps high schools could adopt a practice similar to what our college did – the graduating class votes for which classmate should speak. Then that person as well as a valedictorian could address the gathered masses. Just an idea.


  4. I’ve never thought it should go to the student with the best grades solely. What if they have the numbers but can’t speak to save their lives? I always thought it should go to the best speaker…but that’s just me ;0)



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