For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Aug 06 2017
by Rina Lee

Some High Schools Are Now Voting for Valedictorians

By Rina Lee - Aug 06 2017

For many graduating students, the announcement of their valedictorian is an event as momentous and as eagerly anticipated as Christmas or a lottery draw.

“I’ve been working towards attaining the title of valedictorian ever since I knew what it was,” Elena, an 18-year old senior from San Diego, confessed in a Twitter direct message with Fresh U. “It has always been a dream of mine. It’s what has fueled me throughout high school. I’ve been working and pushing myself so hard, hoping that this might one day happen.”

Amanda, a senior from Portland, shared similar sentiments with Fresh U over Facebook. “Being awarded the title of valedictorian is such an immeasurable honor," Amanda said. "It’s one of the highest academic distinctions a graduating student anywhere can receive.” 

“It’s a celebration of academic success,” said Toronto student Jason. “We don’t take this lightly.”

Increasingly, however, more and more schools are moving away from the long-held tradition of recognizing the academic achievement of a single individual with the highest GPA. Some are instead choosing to share this coveted title among a percentage of the graduating students with a certain GPA, or with all those who have attained a certain GPA. This year, one school in California reported having 10 valedictorians, while another in Tennessee had a staggering 48.

One high school in Vancouver, however, took a different approach this spring. After selecting the top five students with the highest GPAs, the school decided to leave the choice of valedictorian up to its general student population through a direct referendum. The candidate with the highest number of votes would be made valedictorian; the student with the second most votes, salutatorian.

Over a Facebook interview conducted with one candidate (referred to in this article as candidate A), it became clear that their vice principal had explained this sudden change as stemming from an observation that the students with the highest GPA's did not always have the best public speaking skills.

"Supposedly, they were not always involved in the school community either, which apparently had often left everyone feeling disgruntled that the person to give their farewell speech was someone who did not truly represent or understand them,” remarked candidate A. “I personally don’t fully agree with this reasoning. It’s too much of a generalization bordering on stereotyping, and a little insulting, to be honest.”

Tensions and emotions ran sky-high in the weeks leading up to the voting. After candidate A and her friends put up several posters around the senior hallway, they were immediately asked to take them down, as this was not a “popularity contest.”

“This was meant as a show of support, not an attempt to start a popularity contest,” stated one of candidate A’s friends. “When you’re in the running for a vote, you should be allowed to put up posters, of all things.”

On the day of the voting, an outcry broke out. Written in minuscule fine print on the very bottom of the ballot were the words that no one had expected: “The school administration will have the final say in the choice of valedictorian.”

For many, it was the last straw.

“To talk of giving the student body a voice in choosing someone who best represented them and to basically throw it back in our faces — it was like a betrayal of the worst kind," remarked one of the students in a Twitter direct message. "I don't understand why we even had a vote at all.”

To add insult to injury, the name of the valedictorian was announced with the statement, “It was a very clear-cut vote.”

However, a letter signed by over 50 percent of the eligible student voters confirmed that the “clear-cut” winner had not, in fact, received a majority of the student votes.

Clearly, as schools slowly branch out from the long-held traditions regarding a valedictorian, there are definite flaws and challenges to be addressed. Should the choice of valedictorian still be left entirely up to the school? Should the student body have any say in the person who will deliver their final departing speech? Should the notion of academic achievement even be associated with the concept of a valedictorian? And in doing so, would this, in any way, diminish the honor and prestige associated with the coveted title?

Should there even be a valedictorian in the first place?

“I don’t think we should get rid of it all together,” responded candidate A. "It holds so much importance and value for many, many students. But maybe we should have had a vote on how to pick a valedictorian in the first place. A real vote.”

It's certainly something for all graduating seniors to think about, as their part in this valedictorian debate is far from over. In four years, they will be faced with university graduation — and who should be their valedictorian then?

Lead Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

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Rina Lee - University of Toronto

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