Bobservation: valedictorian – vital or irrelevant?
Graduation time brings up words like pomp and circumstance, robes, diplomas, gifts and of course, valedictorian.
The tradition of selecting a valedictorian goes back to 1772 at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. It began when Norborne Berkeley arrived from England to serve as Governor of Virginia. He fell in love with the colony and college. In appreciation, he offered a gold medal as the prize awarded to the student most skilled in Latin written composition and oratory.
The winning student, selected by the college president and faculty, was then designated as the valedictorian. The term is derived from the Latin word Vamedicere meaning “to say goodbye,” so this seemed fitting.
By 1920, many American public high schools had adopted the practice of awarding honors, including valedictorian. Instead of proficiency in Latin, the selection process was based on grade point average (GPA). In place of a medal, the smartest student has the task of developing a heartfelt speech.
From that time through at least the 1960s, one valedictorian at each high school spoke to the class, faculty and assembled relatives. Typically, in my experience, no one remembers that speech.
Part of the problem now is that some students take advanced placement and International Baccalaureate classes. Grades in some of these classes are “weighted” giving many students well beyond the traditional 4.0 top GPA.
A quick scan of the internet finds that in some schools, especially those with large graduating classes, means 50 to 70 or more top learners are deemed to be valedictorians. I think most schools only allow one or two of them to actually give a speech at graduation. At least, I hope this is the case.
The mindset on the whole valedictorian thing seems to be changing in some schools. The new thinking is to have no, that’s right no valedictorians. My bet is that it will spread to most schools.
I have two grandchildren in the Cherry Creek School District (CCSD). Parents in this district recently got a letter from the CCSD principals. Changes are in the works.
In part, the letter stated, “The current practice of honoring class Valedictorians is one we have discussed for many years. The role of the educator is to teach all of our students, not to rank and sort them. The practices of class rank and valedictorian status are outdated and inconsistent with what we know and believe of our students. We believe all students can learn at high levels, and learning is not a competition.” Take that, Norborne Berkeley. Think about that for a moment, if you would. Is this “wokeness” or just forward-thinking.
This new stance on high achievers begins with the Class of 2026 in the Cherry Creek School District. One of my granddaughters is a sophomore, so her class will still have valedictorians. She did not have much to say on this matter, but as a year-round competitive swimmer, she is not afraid of competition with winners and losers. The second granddaughter, a seventh-grader, will have no recognition of her class of 2027 top students. Right now, she is not necessarily thinking that far ahead, as it should be.
Part of this whole new philosophy, in my mind, smacks of “everybody gets a medal or ribbon.” Those poor lower GPA students (like I was) will feel crushed if others get recognition. (I didn’t.)
My Bobservation solution—although CCSD didn’t ask me—is to make everyone, yes EVERYONE a valedictorian. That way they all feel good.
It’s like when a football team is in a championship game. Usually, if one team has a substantial lead late in the game, the coach lets everyone, including benchwarmers, in for at least one play. That way, years from graduation, they can tell their children and grandkids that they played in the big game.
My only caveat is that not everyone gets to orate and say a goodbye from the dais. Nobody speaks; everyone is equal.
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